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ATD Blog

7 Tips for Creating Psychological Safety During Training

Tuesday, May 17, 2022
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As a trainer, you ask people to put their learning needs in your hands as you guide them on a journey of discovery. For many people, though, learning can feel threatening.

Acquiring new skills can be harder than expected. Learners may not know as much as they think they do. And there’s always the risk that the learning experience fails to live up to expectations.

Kenneth M. Novack suggests that effective teams are characterized by high levels of psychological safety and interpersonal trust.

The need for psychological safety also applies to learning environments. You want the people and teams you train to feel they can put themselves in your hand and trust you, right?

Here are seven practical tips to help ensure your learners trust you.

Contract With Delegates

You want to create conditions where people in your program know and understand the rules and behaviors expected of them. This means that you “contract” with delegates so that they agree to a code of acceptable behavior in advance.

You don’t have to give them something in writing, but you do need to verbally outline conditions and boundaries so people are clear on what will create a collaborative and safe learning experience.

Q: What’s the best way to get people to agree to my behavioral expectations?

Leave Conflict at the Door

Have you ever been conscious of underlying tensions in the training room? Hamid and Julie aren’t getting along. Shaun and Shilpa don’t want to sit together.

If outside conflict spills into your training, it reflects poorly on you as a program leader and makes for an uncomfortable experience.

Q: How can I create a cooperative environment in which people agree to put aside differences?

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Give Learners Ownership

When your delegates are given no opportunity to influence what they learn or control how they learn, it’s no surprise that their stress levels increase.

What’s going to make your training a success? Participation. Lots of it. When you invite learners to shape their training experience, they become stakeholders in making it work for them.

Q: How can I engage learners so they feel a sense of ownership in its success?

Make It OK to Take Risks

How do your delegates feel about “trying things out” in front of colleagues? Sometimes as trainers, we unintentionally give people tasks where their lack of competency or lack of experience is exposed.

Maybe that role-play you spent hours designing backfires. Oops. It happens to us all. But great trainers do their best to create an environment where people feel it’s OK to make mistakes and learn from them.

Q: How can I encourage people to adopt a mindset of playfulness?

Facilitate the Exchange of Views

Have you seen people stand at the top of the classroom and do all the talking? Some trainers dominate rather than facilitate. It’s intimidating when the “expert” is the loudest voice in the room.

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What about valuable insight and input from their peers? Shouldn’t they hear that too? When you let people speak, you’re giving them an opportunity to feel good about themselves. Nice job!

Q: How can I ask questions so people get the chance to shine in front of others?

Appreciate Contributions Equally

I remember a time the lead trainer on a program showed enthusiasm every time a particular manager spoke up. But when nonmanagers voiced their opinions, they were not given the same airtime.

It was embarrassing, unprofessional, and cringe-worthy. So, when people are in your care as a trainer, you need to ensure that all voices are valued. Everyone’s input is appreciated. Everyone in your care is equal. Got it?

Q: Which steps can I take to welcome and encourage learners’ opinions?

Show Concern for People

The training business is a people business, right? So as a professional trainer, you know what it means to be emotionally intelligent. For example, in class, Laura appears to have something on her mind, and you notice it, or Hamid is struggling with some of the material, but you’ve come up with a respectful way to help him. Your training is important. Even more important are the people whom you are training. Read that last bit again.

Q: What do I need to do to better accommodate emotional needs?

Next Steps

Feeling unsafe in the training environment can play havoc with employee confidence. Ultimately, your ability to facilitate psychological safety marks you out as a people professional. And that’s the best kind of training professional.

About the Author

Mark Garrett Hayes works with technology and SaaS businesses as a remote/virtual sales coach. He earned his first train-the-trainer (TTT) whilst working for The Walt Disney Company and subsequently acquired TAP (Training Accredited Professional) and FETAC-Level 6 Certified Trainer qualifications. Mark holds a Diploma in Coaching from Kingstown College and an MBA from the University of Ulster. When not working with clients, he runs the TrainingBusiness blog, hosts the TrainingBusiness® Podcast and loves helping learning and development business owners.

2 Comments
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"Your training is important. Even more important are the people whom you are training." - Such a great reminder! I needed to hear this today.
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Great article Mark! As a Facilitator, applying the experiential learning model in my training classes has allowed me to accomplish many of the points you make about creating a safe environment in training classes.
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