Volumes have been written about the skill associated with being a good trainer.

We are awash in methods, approaches, and techniques to reach trainees. Good trainers pay attention and shape their approach to these empirical models.

But delivery is only half of the equation. There must be willing recipients on the other end.

So how do we do that? How do we get the most of our valuable training time and emerge improved or at the very least, edified?


The answer: we need to become Expert Trainees.


What is that and how do we get there? Glad you asked.

The following three, very simple rules will set you on your way to being the kind of trainee that make good trainers…love their job.


Let’s get started:

3 Steps to Becoming the Smartest Person in the Room

1. Check your ego at the door

As a professional law enforcement officer or military member, we attach ourselves to our skill resume closely. In a very real sense, our lives could depend on it. This tendency comes with an almost compulsory need to guard and defend our positions in a perceived “knowledge hierarchy.


Let’s take the draw-stroke as an example: Getting our pistols out of the holster and performing is a vital skill. People that carry pistols put a great deal of importance on it, and rightly so. You don’t have to spend any time on a pistol range to notice the amount of emphasis we place on a fast draw. We’ll call that “status.”


What happens when someone challenges our status? We almost reflexively defend our position. Not because we are bad people (not all the time, anyway) but because we place a great importance…perhaps our life’s value on the skill we’ve developed. This is sacred ground.


What this often means is that we will never be able to hear the small efficiencies that a trainer may help us install. When we employ ego as the storehouse for skill, we will always “man the walls” when someone approaches. The trick here is to decouple skill from ego.


Identify skill with curiosity instead. If you consider it for a moment, that’s where skill is born anyway. A trainee should be curious about the information, not looking for ways to tout an ability. The latter in fact…often blocks improvement altogether. People that are excellent at what they do are often insatiably curious about whatever it is that they pursue. Constantly evolving (and improving) skill is a likely outcome.


When you are approaching your next training session leave your ego at home. Play the neophyte.

Be the one to ask the dumb questions. Don’t man the walls. Open the gates.


2. Shut up

In training, much of what we say that we shouldn’t, is likely as a result of breaking rule #1.


This is an easy fix: don’t defend yourself. Don’t argue on the line at the range or in the house. And here’s a tough pill to swallow: don’t interrupt the trainer to tell them why you did it wrong or the mistake you made. You’ll miss opportunities to learn, gain information, and see things from a whole new perspective.


At best, you’ll just teach the instructor that you don’t want the training.


At worst, you’ll get in the way of everyone learning – to save your ego. Let it go.


The other thing you gain by keeping quiet (unless you have a question, of course) is learning the instructor’s method. Much can be learned about a skill by listening to the language used to describe it. We’ve all had that “eureka!” moment in a debrief when someone says something in a way that connects with us. Don’t interrupt that.


When you are headed into your next class be the quiet, earnest, inquisitive student. You’ll be amazed.


3. Practice charity

When someone thinks enough of you to put effort into teaching you, you should reciprocate by giving their information or method a fighting chance. In fact, you should give it as much credence as you do your own. If you aren’t doing this, you are putting yourself in a confirmation bias trap. Take what is being given, honestly. You don’t have to adopt it, but you do have to fully understand it before dismissing it – if you want to be an expert trainee.

Weigh what is being taught completely. Hear them out and make your decision after achieving a full understanding.

The trainer is only responsible for half of what goes on in training.

Do your part: Be an expert trainee. You’ll be surprised at how much it helps.


Author Bio

Duane “Buck” Buckner

After spending 25 years in the USCG, Duane “Buck” Buckner is now the U.S. Director of Training for Aimpoint. The Aimpoint Training Division conducts training courses for military and law enforcement agencies up to the Federal level as well as for the prepared civilian. Buck is widely known for his emphasis on brain psychology as it relates to combat and survival.

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Posted by Duane Buckner, Aimpoint US Director of Training on Feb 17th 2022