Learner resistance: how NLP can help you become a better trainer

By Anne Sexton - Last update

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Master NLP Trainer, Brian Moore explains how useful it is to believe that there is no such thing as resistant trainees, only flexible trainers.

In this article you will explore how some of the principles of NLP can be used to avoid, reduce, minimise and even eliminate learner resistance from the training room.

What is NLP?

NLP, Neuro Linguistic Programming, is called the science of excellence. It studies how people excel in fields such as business, sport and education. It also offers tools to learn how to match that excellence. NLP transforms what is possible in the ways we communicate, influence, persuade, manage and achieve what we want. So let’s look at how you can apply some of the principles of NLP in training delivery to overcome learner resistance.

NLP in the training room

First off, let’s look at the impact of your beliefs on your results.

  • Do you expect resistance when you enter the training room or not?
  • If you do, what happens?
  • If you don’t, what happens?
  • Does it matter what you believe?

If you expect learner resistance, chances are you will find it.

With the belief that there will be resistance, you have triggered a self-fulfilling prophecy. This impacts the quality of your training. This is because you are dealing with resistance instead of focusing on the training.

Negative self talk erodes your confidence and your focus. As a result, you deliver training well below the standard you are capable of. This can have consequences for you, your reputation and your company.

Let’s look at this scenario again. This time you believe that all the learners are motivated and enthusiastic to attend your course. Your expectations are totally different and your focus is on the topic in hand. Therefore, your energy and enthusiasm will allow you to deliver training that receives exceptional feedback. The result is what you expected.

The importance of beliefs

Beliefs play a vital role in avoiding, reducing, minimising and even eliminating learner resistance from the training room. Let’s explore a few empowering beliefs that can help to achieve greater success in your trainings. I would like to acknowledge David Shepherd, Master Trainer of NLP, who shared these with me as part of my training in NLP.

The following empowering beliefs are based on the models of excellence in communication, known as the presuppositions of NLP – the premise or foundation of NLP.

Empowering Beliefs of Trainers

  • Every learner has their own unique model of the world.
  • In order to have rapport with the learner, you must respect the learner’s model of the world.
  • The meaning of the communication is the response you get.
  • There is no failure, only feedback.
  • Resistance in a learner is a sign of a lack of rapport.
  • There are no resistant learners, only inflexible trainers.

You may even totally disagree with these. Please note that I am not saying that they are true. However when you apply them, as if they are true, they will work for you. Remember the old Henry Ford quotation “whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.” The same thinking applies here. Test them out in your own trainings and notice the results.

Every learner has their own unique model of the world

We all experience life in different ways. Each learner will have a unique way in which they view you and the training. NLP allows you to understand the differences in people and allow you as a trainer to match the learner. This requires a lot of flexibility in thinking and communicating as a trainer.

Respect the learner’s model of the world

In order to have rapport with the learner, you must respect the learner’s model of the world. This is a very important belief to have as a trainer. As you know, you will meet many different types of learner in the training room. Many of them will have very different views to you, some you’ll agree with, some you won’t. This isn’t about whose view is right or wrong, but more about respecting that the learner’s model of the world is perfect for them. You don’t need to agree with it, just respect it. When you do, it makes communicating with everyone much more effective.

The meaning of the communication is the response you get

Communication is a two way process. With this belief, the trainer takes responsibility for communicating their message. If the learner doesn’t understand the message, it’s not the learner’s fault. It’s up to the trainer to change his or her communication until the learner understands. The calibration of whether the message is being received and understood is the response you get from them. Being able to read the non-verbal responses is invaluable. This firmly places the responsibility with you, as the trainer, by being as flexible as required and finding new ways to explain their message until they get the meaning of your message. The key to success is focusing on your learner not on you.

There is no failure, only feedback

This belief means that whatever response you get from the learner it is just feedback. This means that if you do experience resistance, you can change what you’re doing or how you’re communicating until you do get the response you want, i. e. happy, motivated learners. You may have had an experience in the past when you were the learner and you didn’t understand the message being communicated by the trainer. When you asked for some clarity, the trainer just reiterated the message again using the same words but perhaps with a stronger emphasis. You still didn’t get it, so they just said it louder or more slowly. If you want a different response, you need to change what and how you are communicating, otherwise resistance can be created. So, pay attention to the feedback and, if what you’re doing isn’t working, change and do it differently.

Resistance in a learner is a sign of a lack of rapport

Rapport is a prerequisite for effective training. Before you begin the training, it is essential that you establish rapport with the group in front of you. If you have researched and understood the learner profile, you can more easily meet the learners in their model of the world, by matching their behaviour, thinking or levels of energy. People like people who are like themselves. So, if you experience a response as meaning “They are resistant, ” then it just means that you haven’t built enough rapport with them yet. The responsibility for building rapport is with you the trainer, so build more rapport. Once you have built a good level of rapport with the group, learner resistance melts or disappears.

There are no resistant learners, only inflexible trainers

We’ve discussed how your beliefs can limit or empower you as a trainer. When you look out into the group during the training and think “They are tough group” this says a lot about your own rigidity. If you want to eliminate learner resistance, it is more useful to decide that you haven’t yet found the best way to present or  communicate to a group or learner. Keep changing what you’re doing until you get the result that you’re looking for.

All of the beliefs discussed in this article require increasing your self-awareness and your flexibility as a trainer, presenter and communicator. NLP provides you with a greater understanding of how to communicate more effectively with yourselves and others, as well as providing a mindset that focuses on results, not reasons. In other words, either you deliver a training that really works without resistance or you have reasons why it doesn’t.

If you always focus on how well the training will go and how interested the learners will be by adopting the beliefs outlined above, you’ll soon discover the power of belief and focus on your results. When you act as if the empowering beliefs discussed in this article are true, you will make them true. Imagine the impact this will have on your training, for you as the trainer and for your learners.

NLP provides you with an extensive knowledge of yourselves and others and how to use the language of the mind to consistently achieve your specific and desired outcomes. It provides powerful life changing attitudes, methodologies and techniques to allow you to design and deliver powerful trainings and much, much, more.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and found it of value.

NLP Reading

Introducing NLP: Psychological Skills for Understanding and Influencing People. Joseph O’Connor and John Seymour, Thorsons, 1995.

Words that Change Minds: Mastering the Language of Influence. Shelle Rose Charvet, Kendall Hunt Publishing Company, 1995.

NLP At Work: the Difference that Makes a Difference. Sue Knight, Nichloas Brearly Publishing, 2002.

Visionary Leadership Skills. Robert B. Dilts, Meta Publications, Capitola, CA. 1996.

Mini Review

Training with NLP. Joseph O’Connor and John Seymour, Thorsons, 1995.

This book is one of the only NLP books directed at trainers. It attempts, largely successfully, to evaluate the differences between outstanding trainers and the rest.

The book professes to “give you the knowledge and skill to learn faster, teach others to learn faster and improve the results that you create.” Ideally, it would be best to have already read the Introduction to NLP by the same authors, or another reputable NLP writer, though there is a brief explanation of the basics of NLP in this book.

One of the strengths of that books is that it focuses not only on the outward skills and techniques of a trainer but also on the ‘inner game’ they have to play.

The book has four sections, with an initial introduction that briefly explores the philosophy and aims of training. Next, there are extended evaluations of how you might usefully prepare for and deliver training. These evaluations are the real strengths of the book: they break down training into a series of clearly understandable skills, with exercises for those most challenging areas. It helps those with a more theoretical leaning, to see the process analysed in such a way.

The last section dealt with the evaluation of training and was possibly the weakest area, largely because the examples of evaluation exercises tended to be isolated without coherent explanatory notes. It seemed a shame that such a critical area of the training exercise was the least useful. Overall, this book is worth a read for anyone involved in training, if only to provoke ways of re-evaluating your own training styles.

Anne Sexton

Working on Presentation Skills
Informal learning: opportunity or threat for L&D professionals?


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