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Change This Word When Training People

A common question we get from our clients is, “How do I train a novice, without sounding condescending?”

I’m often impressed with people who ask this question, because they recognize that people haven’t always done this well for them — and they have a desire to do better for others.

Where People Go Wrong

Think back to a time when someone attempted to train you on a new task, process, or procedure, but was condescending towards you. What did they do or not do that made you feel small?

Whenever I pose this question to the people we work with, here are some common responses:

  • They just told me what to do instead of taking time to train me the right way.

  • They assumed I knew a lot less than I did.

  • They didn’t give me enough time to ask questions.

  • They didn’t seem to want to spend time to help.

While there are many things we do to help our clients minimize the chances of these responses, there’s a key shift you can make today that will make your training more accessible to others.

Change This Word

The complaints we hear above are often minimized by changing one word when you are teaching someone with less experience.

Say “I” instead of “you.”

This is such a seemingly insignificant change in language that when we coach people on the above, they often give us a weird look.

“Wait, what you mean?” is often the next question.

Here’s How it Sounds

Most people say “you” a lot when they are training someone on how to do something. It often sounds like this:

First, you need to set up the meeting. Then, it’s important that you send out agendas to all the participants so they know what to prepare. It’s important that you… (and so on).

Shifting the word “you” to “I” means that the same interaction sounds more like this.

The first thing that I do is to set up the meeting. Then, I send out the agenda to all the participants so they know what to prepare. I’ve learned that it’s really important that I…

The language shifts to focus on what you do, instead of what the other party should do. That may seem trivial, but it matters.

Why it Matters

There are many benefits you’ll see from making this shift in your language. Here are four big ones:

1. Details are covered

Our natural inclination when telling someone else what to do is to give them just what they need. That’s a good inclination, but often we don’t recognize important pieces that we take for granted.

When we’re explaining something from our own perspective, we force ourselves to explain details that may, at first glance, seem trivial — but actually are key to the task or process.

Explaining it from our perspective encourages us to cover the things we may otherwise have missed.

2. Ownership is demonstrated

When you describe something from your own perspective, it shows that you’ve had personal ownership over it. It demonstrates your commitment and shows the other party that what you’re training them to do is important.

What if you haven’t had ownership? Either learn enough yourself to give people a starting point or find a better person to do the training.

3. Trust is conveyed

A lot of people don’t like being just told what to do. Language like “you need to…” sounds condescending when it’s used again and again.

Walking through the process from your point of view avoids having to say “you need to…” constantly, while conveying the same information.

It also sends the message that you trust someone enough to not dictate every single step.

4. Innovation is Supported

There are times when a process must be followed exactly, but it’s more often the case that there are many “right” ways to do something.

Showing your way of doing it frames the task, process, or procedure as the starting point instead of the ending point. Without even saying it, you open the door for others to do something more effectively than you have.

Of course there are times to be more directive, but a majority of the people find that dictating steps is a last resort option instead of a starting point.

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