The Over-Friendly Trainer

It is a question every parent, every teacher and every trainer will ask themselves.

'Am I too strict, too soft - how do I find the right balance?'

Obviously there are a number of factors that will influence finding the right balance between formality and informality, such as: where the training is taking place; how committed and keen the attendees are to take part in the programme; the nature of the subject matter and of course the age, personality and experience of trainer.

But if we all think back to our school days, the teachers who were the most approachable, friendly and easy going at the beginning of the term, often were not the most popular or respected by the end. In contrast, the stern, severe teacher who then relaxes a bit during the course of the year is usually looked upon with more respect and even eventually, with more affection.

I remember a manager declaring with a bit of self-conscious irony:

'Don't think of me as your boss, think of me as a friend who is always right!'

That is an almost impossible balance to sustain -an apparent best of both worlds. But as his statement implies, a boss sometimes needs to make clear decisions and take control, in a way that would not be appropriate in a friend relationship.

Sometimes when we want an honest candid opinion, we walk past our friends and go to someone who is a bit more detached, because we feel they are not afraid to give a more honest, balanced perspective.

A trainer, if only for a few hours, is also a mentor. And sometimes a mentor has to speak uncomfortable truths. After all, it is a professional relationship. We do not look to our Doctor to be our friend; in fact, we may be slightly uncomfortable if they were too close. We expect them to work in a professional context, to work in our best interests and be able to tell us what we need to know, honestly and sensitively. So how does that help us with the initial question:

'Am I too strict, too soft - how do I find the right balance?'

Simply put, if you are going to err on any side, it is better to be too strict and detached. You can always recover and come back the other way. However, like a sports team that starts off too slowly, or a tennis player who underestimates his opponent, it can be hard to recover if you start too informally.

Your first job is not to be loved, it is to be respected!

From a student's point of view a teacher whose attitude starts off a bit reserved and then warms up - is seen as a pleasant improvement. You can always squeeze a bit more toothpaste out of the tube, putting it back in again, is somewhat harder.

So an ideal posture for a trainer is friendly, professional and if not sure how far to go on the open friendly side - then hold back little. You can always open up later. Before anything else, it is a professional relationship.

This article was written by Michael Ronayne, director at the College of Public Speaking and four-time UK National Public Speaking Champion.

To discover more of Michael's top training techniques, check out his professionally accredited Train the Trainer course here