The Startling Time When Trainers Must Nudge

06 Jul 2017 10:21 AM | Anonymous

Author: Bruce Winner, Government Training Academy,, 916.563.3232,

The Startling Time When Trainers Must Nudge

Nudging at its simplest is defined as the science of getting people to take action. Nudges are a means to influence your trainees to take positive action.  Nudging is a flexible way to increase the chances of your training resulting in behavioral change or that as your training participants return to the workplace, they apply their newly learned skills.

Would you like to know one of the most effective, and yet surprising, times when trainers should use nudging?  It’s a time that many of us in training ignore.

The time is after our design and development, before our training even starts!

Nudging before training begins

Before your training begins, consider using “priming”.  Priming is exposing someone to a stimulus that will ultimately make them more receptive to your following effort(s) to persuade them. Robert Cialdini, one of the most frequently cited behavioral scientists in this field, refers to priming as “pre-suasion”. In his recent book Pre-suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, he describes the flexibility and utility of this powerful behavioral science technique. Cialdini refers to this time period before our persuasive efforts as a “privileged moment for change”. During this privileged moment, we can prepare people to be receptive to a message before they experience it.

In the lab, but also in the real world

There are many examples of priming that have been proven effective in laboratory settings. Priming has been used in tests to increase individuals’ honesty in response to questions, to boost their attention, and even make them act as if they were years older or younger than their natural age.

Though these lab examples are interesting, my favorite examples of priming are those that take place in the real world. For example, the following priming experiment was conducted in a supermarket, where people made actual decisions and paid real money for their choices. In the test, a display of French and German wines were side by side in a supermarket display.  For several hours of the day French music would play and at other times German music would be piped to the consumers. When French music was playing, 70% of the sales were of French wines. When German music was playing, 70% of the sales were of German wines.  When randomly selected guests were asked if the music playing influenced their selection of wines, the overwhelming majority of the shoppers responded, “What music?”  Priming works! It works in the lab and the real world, but it is generally invisible to those who are influenced by the priming.

An orientation session that is really much more

Of course I realize you aren’t in the business of selling wine, but have you ever considered how you could pre-suade your training participants to be even more receptive to your training messages? You can prime your participants by speaking directly to them and their supervisors in an hour set aside before your training begins.  Here you can efficiently prime both groups (participants and supervisors). An effective way to do this is to ask them (participants) to consider or “hold” the following question, “What would successfully completing this program do for me?”  (Note: We generally expand the question with some specific examples of potential positive results from the program.)

When we use this technique in my training practice, we use a modified coaching technique borrowed from Nick LeForce, NLP master-coach. The method directs participants to cup their hands, as if they were physically holding the question posed to them. This priming technique appeals to their emotional brain, by allowing participants to craft an internal priming message for themselves.  We ask them to listen to the entire session while determining what is in it for them.  (Trainers often refer to this as the WIIFM, or the acronym for What’s In It For Me.) For some participants the WIIFM may be a promotion, for others a raise, and some may imagine a boost in productivity and the recognition they will receive because of it.

Then we ask the supervisors to hold a similar question. The goal is to get the same level of support from supervisors as from the participants.  As trainers, we know that the supervisor’s endorsement is often the key to the participant’s application of training back on the job. After they ask themselves this priming question, supervisors are more likely to view the training as a means to help themselves.  For some supervisors their goal may be a more productive employee, for others a more engaged one, and for some it could be an employee who makes fewer mistakes and thus takes less of their (the supervisor’s) valuable time.  In both cases (participants and supervisors) we have primed them using the most effective arguments available to pre-suade them. We have used their own arguments, their own vested interests, their emotional brains, their WIIFM.

Priming, like all nudges, is designed to overcome our cognitive biases.  Priming is a proven method of overcoming the “status quo bias” or more colloquially, our adversity to change. Most people (employees or supervisors) are content to accept things the way they are. Unless nudged, your trainees may be reluctant to learn new ways of doing things and their supervisors may be reluctant to let them try new tools or techniques.  Priming will prepare your students to be more receptive to your message in the classroom and with the supervisor’s support, boost post-training application.  

During and After Training

Watch for an upcoming blog where we will explore how to nudge trainees during and after training.

You can find out more about these nudges and how to use them to boost your training results at an upcoming ATD Sacramento workshop.


Influence, Persuade, Nudge: Master the Science of Getting People to Take Action.

Friday, August 25 2017 at 1410 Ethan Way, The Los Rios CCD’s Workforce and Economic Development Center.

This hands-on full day workshop is another in the Fundamentals Series (professional development workshops for training professionals).  The workshop is led by Bruce Winner, Custom Training Manager of the Government Training Academy, LRCCD.  Bruce conducted a two hour Nudge workshop for a sold out crowd of over 60 people in Nov 2016 and the crowd asked for a follow-up.  Here it is!

Click here to learn more about the featured workshop.

© ATD Sacramento Chapter

Thanks to the generosity of QuestionPro and its Survey Software we are able to track new and exciting data for our stakeholders. QuestionPro's advanced features allow us to collect responses and distribute vital information to participants.

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software