March 5, 2018 0

Trainer Biases and how to navigate them

Posted by:dimenzion3 onMarch 5, 2018

The feedback results of our training are something we trainers (facilitators if you have an allergy to the ‘trainer’ word) all look forward to. Despite the session being successful, some feedback rating and comments surprise us.


I got thinking about why some people rate the training less satisfactorily as compared to others in the same group. Given that the trainer possessed required skills, the issue lay in a trap called as conscious and unconscious bias. Do trainers have biases? Of course, they do, as much as one would take pleasure in denying the fact. So how does bias manifest in training sessions and what can trainers do about it?


When everything seems to have gone well, you come across one or two stray feedback comments that sound like “The session should have been more interactive” OR “The trainer should have involved everyone”. And this perception is the truth. Unconscious bias would have led one to behave in ways that made people feel excluded from the rest of the group.


Often, learners in a session belong to one majority function or group e.g. sales, customer service, HR. To contextualize the session to this majority audience, we provide examples that cater to them and inadvertently miss out on the remainder of the group. There is that one person on each table who is left feeling they are in a class of best friends that they do not belong to. This ‘conformity bias’ leads people to feel excluded and does not provided a holistic experience for them.


I remember co-facilitating a session with a trainer who is an alumni of a premier business school that took pride in doing the greater good. During the introductions, we found out that there were two audience members who were also alumni of the same institute. What resulted was the trainer and these two men spending most of the time together during every break and discussing those good old college days and eventually created their own in-group. The trainer also for most part of the session had eye contact with these people and provided examples that were more relevant to them. This is a classic example of ‘Affinity Bias’ and I have found many a trainer fall trap to this bias, including myself. Affinity bias also manifests when trainers encounter someone belonging to their home town, language or a past employer.


As unbeliespeaking-1453068vable as it sounds, ‘Beauty Bias’ is a reality in the training world. Often, we come across people who look smart by our standards. It could be a handsome man or a pretty woman sitting in one corner of the room. The problem is that we mistake this smartness to intelligence. Beauty bias is also a result of our idea of how intelligent or powerful people should be in terms of their dressing/ grooming, how they should sound and other aspects of their physical features that conforms to our idea. What happens next is that this person becomes our favourite learner. We look at them for most part of the session, look to them to respond to questions and even end up as our break buddies. Others not only notice this but also do not feel comfortable about it.


‘Similarity Bias’ is the tendency to be associated with people who are like us in terms of thoughts, ideas and opinions. How it plays out in training sessions is in the form of our reaction to those two people on that front table who always provide the exact response we are looking for to a question. Their thoughts and ideas are so much like our own. They say the exact same things that the trainer would have planned to bring up next. It then becomes an in-group panel of facilitators working together for the benefit of the remainder of the ‘less learned’ audience members.


Trainers have a great responsibility to impart insights in an impartial manner and with utmost empathy and sensitivity. And being aware of our biases can go a long way in fulfilling this responsibility in the true sense. So, what can we do?


Trainers are taught not to be impartial, to include everyone etc. However, this prescription comes across more as a sensitivity or a skill download and rarely from an inclusivity point of view. To start with, it is important to understand the audience profile in detail from the client. Being prepared with examples and anecdotes relevant to all audience members goes a long way in ensuring a holistic training delivery. What is even more important is to introspect and identify biases by inspecting one’s past behaviour during sessions. Look deeper into your conditioning. What are your thoughts about people in general? What are your ideas about how a successful person should be? How should women be? What kind of people do you like and not like? Who do you look up to and admire – and what are the reasons for that? What are some things that your parents and teachers have taught you that you are still using in your life? What does your value system talk to you in terms of what is right or wrong; what is good or bad? Such introspection will lead to discoveries of conscious and unconscious bias and these discoveries help in navigating one’s behaviour.  If you are able to identify these and able to deliver sessions in a more inclusive way, you have arrived. Having said that, there is no end to it. Unconscious bias will always creep in at some point in time. The secret lies in how aware one is.  The outcome is a more holistic learning, enlightened audience and a happy trainer.

About the Author: Shrivallabh is the co-founder of Dimenzion3 and is a subject matter expert in the areas of diversity & inclusion, intercultural competency and interpersonal effectiveness. He consults with many global clients on these areas. He can be reached on shrivallabh@dimenzion3.com

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