The importance of anonymity in training

When training on personal skills/behavioural skills, one of the over-riding constructs of effective training is keeping an environment where people can share and talk openly. It is only in these circumstances true learning can take place. People who attend training have an expectation that they will learn something that can help them. But this learning can only happen if they feel they are in a safe environment to make mistakes. Additionally, though, the trainer has to be acutely conscious of the way they influence the group. And being able to do this is something which takes considerable training and a huge amount of self-awareness.

Here’s a secret I’ll share with you. When delivering training, and you want to illustrate a point you’re making, never direct this at, or use the names of, people in the room with you. Think about that for a moment. Let’s say I want to illustrate a point about the time Bob decided he wanted to give feedback to Billy about a project they worked on. The people involved in the situation are not important. The content of the situation is. That’s the focus. That’s where the learning arises from.

If I use a person’s name present, I risk putting them at danger of exposure to an incident that may or not have happened. Or, I risk intimating to the group that Bob has been in this situation before, which I know about, and am therefore using it to highlight my point. Suddenly, in that absence of awareness, I’ve taken away the safe environment I thought I originally had.

By referring to someone abstract, you can take as much liberty as you want and embellish to your heart’s content. Importantly though, you save yourself from having to caveat the mention of someone in the room with comments like “I’m sure you wouldn’t do this”, or “I should say this never actually happened to Beatrice”, or “I’m talking hypothetically, and don’t mean Beatrice was involved like this”. And beyond this, you ensure you allow further conversations to happen in the same vain.

I’m highly conscious of allowing people on my sessions the chance to have their say. And there’s a lot of things we as L&Ders can do to make this happen. There’s a time and place to use people’s names specifically within training sessions, and most L&Ders will do this as par for the course. In the example I’ve just provided though, I think this is a commonly missed attribute.


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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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