A Lesson From The 18th Century

By: Eric Garner

If you're a manager, supervisor, or trainer, and you're responsible for others' learning, here's a neat little trick that will completely change the way your trainees feel about being taught.

And, instead of giving it to you in a sub-heading in my own words, I'm going to give it to you in its original format, a rhyming 18th century couplet:

"Men must be taught as if you taught them not;
And things unknown propos'd as things forgot."

Read it a couple of time until you get the gist of it.

What this couplet means is that you should never teach anyone anything in the manner of teacher to taught but rather as if you were reminding them of something they already knew but had simply forgotten.

I know that sounds dumb. But wait a moment and think about it.

Point One: few of us like to be taught anything by anyone. Remember school? Remember driving lessons? Remember training courses?

The reason we hate these kinds of learning is because of what it feels like to have someone teach you. The feeling of not knowing. The feeling that someone else knows more than you. The feeling of ignorance, inferiority, and no control. And more so if you're someone in the organization not used to feeling inferior, ignorant and out of control.


When you assume that the people you're teaching already know the stuff, and have simply forgotten it, your role as the guy-who-knows and their role as the dudes-who-don't completely changes. They don't have any sense of not knowing nor you of all-knowing.

What I'm trying to say here is that, when you make the assumption that they know what you know, you give them more respect. And that's point two.

My final point is a bit obvious. This approach is attitudinal not actual. In other words, you have to have the attitude that people already know. Don't make out that they really do know otherwise you'll get into all sorts of complications. As the couplet says, teach people "as if" you weren't teaching them. Pretend it.

This shift in thinking changes the whole teacher-taught relationship. You become a helper and developer rather than a teller and controller. And that's a much better basis on which to learn.

By the way, that original couplet came from the pen of Alexander Pope, a guy I really like.

Here are a few facts about him. He was born in London in 1688 and died in 1744. He was only 4 feet 6 inches tall and suffered all his life from headaches and asthma. He had a humpback which led his jealous enemies to call him "the hunchbacked toad".

But here's why I like him most. Pope was the originator of what I call the coach's motto: "A little learning is a dangerous thing."

But, of course, you already knew that, didn't you?

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(c) Eric Garner, ManageTrainLearn.com. If you enjoyed this article, why not take our FREE 10-day Training Skills email course? It'll give you tons of tips, tricks, and techniques to make you an outstanding trainer. Just send a blank email to [email protected] For tons of other great FREE learning resources, visit ManageTrainLearn and get the MTL learning experience!

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