Why Being Negative Can Be A Great Start For Training

man holding laptop showing frustration

by Alan Matthews

Negativity is often seen as a bad thing. We’re always being urged to be more positive, to have an optimistic, “can do” attitude, to look for solutions rather than problems. But there are times when being negative is actually a great starting point for training.

As I have often said, the purpose of training is to change behaviour. If people leave a training course and continue doing exactly the same things they did before, what was the point?

Part of that is dealing with people’s attitudes. It’s not enough to work on their knowledge or skills, you have to consider how they see the situations you are training them to deal with. If they don’t see the need for change, or if they don’t have the motivation to do so, they won’t implement what they learn.

You also have to start from wherever people happen to be. This is true in terms of their existing knowledge and skills, but also in their attitudes. There’s no point pretending everyone is in a positive frame of mind if the reality is different.

So I have sometimes started off a training session by focusing on the negatives!

For example, on a course on Successful Meetings, I asked people to make a long list of all the things they thought were wrong with meetings in their organisation at the moment. And, on a course on Performance Appraisals, I got them to write down all the reasons why appraisals were a waste of time.

The reason for doing this was because I had a good idea, in both cases, that the people on the course had some very strong feelings about the topic – and they weren’t positive! I knew this from discussions with various people before the training.

So I suspected that, if I just started off by saying I was going to help them learn some effective skills for running meetings or performance appraisals, I wouldn’t have got a very good response.

Instead, I gave them time to let off steam, to give vent to all their negative feelings and to give me an insight into how they saw the “real world” they had to work in.

This meant that I knew exactly where I was starting from. I also built rapport with the group because they didn’t feel I was talking about some ideal world which bore no relation to their experience.

Of course, the trick is to then turn these negatives into something positive!

You can’t just let the whole thing degenerate into a moaning session, letting all the energy drain out of the room and leaving everyone demoralised. You have to take what has come out of the discussion and lead it towards a positive outcome.

So I would keep this opening activity fairly short and not let it drag on too long. Then my next step would be to say something like,”So this is how meetings are at the moment. And I can see why you feel they’re a waste of time. So, if you could imagine meetings that actually worked, that were useful and had some purpose, what would that look like?”

And I would then move on to sharing some ideas about how meetings be organised and run differently.

It’s a bit like dealing with an angry person. If you try to ignore the fact that they are angry, you will not get anywhere. You have to acknowledge their anger and let them get their feelings out into the open before you can move towards a solution.

So don’t be afraid of negativity and don’t try to pretend it’s not there. Use it as your starting point, recognise it and then move on from there to take your learners forward to a positive ending!

About the author

Alan Matthews is the author of How To Design And Deliver Great Training and The Successful Presenter’s Handbook, available from Amazon. You can get his free report, “8 Steps To Excellence – the 8 key habits that make top trainers and presenters stand out” from the website at [http://www.alanmatthewstraining.com] You will also find lots of articles and videos to help you become an outstanding trainer or presenter.