This chapter will help you
► enhance communication skills
► recognize effective teaching skills
► understand data-gathering skills
► identify the importance of political skills
An adage in the field of communication training and development says that people major in their weaknesses: dentists have tooth problems; managers have trouble organizing their work; and marriage counselors have problems at home. To prevent this folklore from becoming reality, people in communication T & D must excel in what they teach.
Communication T & D requires individuals who are strong in a number of areas. First. trainers must themselves learn communication skills. To teach these skills, you must do them well yourself.
A supportive approach means you are able to show others that you back them, that you want to help them, and that they can trust you. This approach is crucial in communication T & D. Many times, your first task is to gather information and try to identify areas in which people need training. It is important to recognize the potential threat others may feel because you are assessing their needs. This reaction may surprise you, unless you realize what others’ perceptions are. They may be afraid that you will think negatively of them, that their lack of knowledge will get them in trouble, or that you are “spying” for “the bosses.” From their point of view, you are an “outsider” who is asking questions about their weaknesses. Remember that you literally are an outsider if you are an external consultant. Even if you work for the same organization, you still are an outsider to their department. As an insider, you also may be perceived as capable of harming their careers. People naturally resist opening up when they have such perceptions.
To overcome their fears, you must indicate support. This approach begins in your everyday relationships with people. Your continuing relationships — that is, your reputation — must be characterized by honesty, consideration, discretion, and confidentiality. You must not have a reputation for being thoughtless or gossipy if you expect people to relax when you ask questions about their work. Your day-to-day interactions with others will determine how much confidence they have in you. To prevent people from becoming fearful or suspicious when you try to help them, your general behavior must match your supportive role. For example, one of the authors was interviewing employees as part of the preparation for a workshop. One of the employees (we’ll call her Ellen) appeared extremely shy and nervous. Instead of ignoring her behavior or dwelling on it, the interviewer said, “It’s natural to be a little unsure about all this. Let me start by describing the purposes of these interviews and how we assure confidentiality.” Ellen became more relaxed and willingly shared her views because of the interviewer’s supportive style.
Once you have established a supportive reputation, people will more likely feel comfortable talking to you about their training needs. During these conversations, you must maintain your supportive role; you should be an empathic listener — that is, one who can identify with the speaker’s feelings and needs.
Accept, rather than judge people. While you are evaluating performance skills in order to identify training needs, you are not evaluating the individual. The way to clarify what you are evaluating is to focus on behaviors. rather than on an employee’s intentions or attitudes. For example, suppose Joe Smith, a mechanic in your firm, has become a supervisor. Your job is to find out how much Joe already knows about supervision and what information or experience he needs to become effective in his new role. Your job is not to determine whether he should have been promoted, whether he has the proper attitude to be a supervisor, or other relatively personal issues
Another way to maintain your supportive role is to view. and help the trainees view, learning as a growth process. Too often, employees fear that the need for training means they have some kind of “fault” or shortcoming. As a communication T & D specialist, your job includes making trainees feel comfortable about the fact that learning is a lifelong process. Through a supportive approach, then, you will enhance your communication skills and help employees to perform better at their jobs.
Do you listen to what people say, instead of thinking of your responses while others talk? Do you ask clarifying questions when you do not understand? Do you paraphrase what people say to you, to make sure you get the full impact? Perhaps even more important, do you hear beyond the words and recognize other people’s feelings or states of mind? One of the hardest things about listening actively is that we often get too involved with our own feelings or ideas. Because of our selective perception, we risk hearing what we expect, or want, to hear the other person say.
Good listening is necessary for several reasons. First, we need to separate the symptom — that is, behavior we do not like — from the problem: that is, the meaning behind the behavior. We cannot make the separation without excellent listening skills. Symptoms are often mistakenly identified as the problem. For example, in an office where employees do not get along well, the manager may think the problem is one or more of the personalities involved, when the actual problem is lack of job descriptions. Joe and Susan may each think the other should file the daily reports; the result may be that none of the reports gets filed, or that Joe and Susan continually argue about who should do it. In this case, personality conflicts are symptoms of the problem, but the lack of clarity about responsibilities is the underlying cause. It takes good listening skills to get past the symptoms and identify the actual problems.
Second, listening skills are important because communication T & D people are responsible for identifying individuals’ needs. These needs may be relatively easy to pick out, such as learning how to use a new computer system, or relatively complicated, such as planning the development of a career. Communication T & D people have found that most people cannot clearly specify what their needs are. Most of us deal with symptoms (we are unhappy; we feel frustrated) but do not immediately recognize what needs these symptoms reflect. T & D specialists must listen well to help others identify their needs. Closely related to this skill is the ability to identify resources available to the employees, and to help match individuals with these resources.
As an example of needs and resources, an employee may want to learn how to write technical reports. In this case, the firm could provide writing workshops during working hours. A more difficult situation occurs when an employee’s work suddenly deteriorates. While the work performance may clearly be declining, the cause — that is, what the employee needs — is not so easy to identify. Is the employee responsible for new tasks, in which case he or she needs to learn new work skills? Did management do something that the employee resents, in which case feedback is required? Does the employee have personal problems that require professional counseling? Active listening is required before the trainer can find out what the employee’s real needs are.
A third reason for good listening skills is that communication T & D specialists provide opportunities for personal and professional growth within organizations. Employees may want help identifying potential career paths within the firm. This involves learning about the organization’s long-term plans, current or potential positions available, and steps employees might take to qualify for these positions. Many companies pay all or part of employees educational expenses, or send employees to professional workshops and seminars. Often, the topics covered are not limited to work-related issues and expand into areas of personal growth. T & D specialists need effective listening skills to identify individuals’ growth needs and appropriate training resources within the community.
In many ways, the communication T & D function is that of liaison, because the T & D person conveys to upper management the needs or wishes of managers, supervisors, and workers on other levels. In addition to conveying information, the T & D specialist often is in a position to influence upper management — that is, to convince them that growth opportunities for employees are worth the time and money they will cost. (This responsibility is discussed in more detail in chapter 5.)
The T & D individual must be a good listener in order to identify applicable needs, to accurately discern the problems involved and to help resolve potential conflicts. Through active listening, trainers are able to get outside themselves to identify and meet others needs.
Positive and Constructive Feedback
Feedback means a response to what someone does or says. It is our reaction to their behavior. In many ways, our feedback — that is, how we react to others — affects their behavior. In a work situation, managers can unknowingly discourage employees by giving inappropriate feedback. For example, employees who complain “My boss always tells me when I’ve done something wrong, but never says how I could improve” are asking for specific suggestions about desired performance. Specialists in communication T & D help recognize types of feedback that encourage, instead of discourage, employees. T & D people help managers with both content (what they talk about) and process (how they say it).
To help employees learn and grow, managers must give them “reality checks”- that is, honest, sympathetic responses to what they do. Is the performance excellent? Managers must say so, because recognition is the best reward there is. Is the performance acceptable? Employees need to know both what they do well and in what ways they could improve. Is the performance poor? Managers must tell them, so they can learn. One manager for whom we have consulted was well liked and respected by her employees. Jean not only gave praise on a regular basis, but when employees made mistakes, she had a special way of giving them feedback. Instead of saying they had done something wrong, Jean would say. “Here is a way to make this even better.” Her positive emphasis encouraged her employees. The trainer’s job is to help managers give effective feedback to employees.
In all these cases. your feedback should focus on behaviors (what people do) instead of on personalities or intentions. Through emphasizing behaviors, you avoid hurt feelings and increase your professionalism.
Congruence Between Verbal and Nonverbal Behavior
Look and act the way you sound. People will not trust you if your words are soothing and friendly but your arms are crossed in front of you and your eyes are averted. When your body language matches your words, people are more likely to believe you. Your dress, posture, tone of voice, facial expressions, and general appearance are extensions of body language. Do you look like a professional?
Throughout organizations, people often need help in how they behave. Most managers’ training does not include specific ways to create congruence, or agreement, in their verbal and nonverbal messages. The result often is misunderstanding between managers and their employees. Communication T & D specialists help bridge this gap through training programs. Again, you must exhibit this agreement yourself if you are to help others do so.
Responsibility for Your Feelings
Use “I” phrases to state how you feel. “I get upset when you do that” is more mature and less accusatory than “You make me upset when you do that.” After all, do you really give others the power to make you feel certain ways, or do you acknowledge that your feelings are your own? Many problems in organizations stem from the fact that people project their feelings onto others, instead of recognizing that their feelings are their own. By taking responsibility for your feelings, you let others learn about you. Communication T & D people help others express themselves in nondefensive, nonthreatening ways. They set the example by their own behavior.
A supportive approach, active listening, positive feedback, and congruent messages are the communication skills that are most important if you want to be effective and be taken seriously as a communication T & D specialist.
Being a good communicator is necessary, but it is not enough. Communication T & D requires that you understand adult learners and use effective teaching methods. A discussion of the skills important for effective training and development in organizations follows.
Good teaching means preparing ahead and being flexible when unanticipated questions or situations come up. Do you have clear objectives of your own for each training session? Are your objectives clear to, and compatible with, those of the group? Do you know how much time each topic requires? Do you have small-group discussions, role-plays, and interactive activities planned? What questions may come up? What problems could occur?
In a work setting, “canned” programs (where the content is fixed regardless of the needs of each group) can have negative result. You need to be flexible enough to vary the emphasis and the content of each program according to each group’s needs. You also need to know your content material very well, in order to be as flexible as you’ll need to be.
Awareness of Adult Learners’ Needs
It is important to know that because work environments involve adults, effective trainers must recognize that adults learn in ways that are different from young students. Therefore, one of the teaching skills trainers need is the ability to work with adult learners. Chapter 3 will discuss the specific needs of adult and other nontraditional learners.
Many diverse teaching methods are available to trainers. In general, however, an effective trainer is more facilitator — one who leads and guides the program — than instructor — one who simply delivers expertise. The facilitative style may be carried out in a number of active and interactive ways: large- and small-group discussions, simulations, and self-awareness exercises.
Large-group discussions. At work, employees and managers can deal with large groups, such as interdepartmental meetings and committees. In large-group discussions, the trainer facilitates by asking questions, tying together comments made by individual participants, and generally getting input from a number of people. These discussions enable participants to give their own examples, ask questions, share their experiences, and feel involved.
In large-group discussions, the trainer must make sure everyone has the chance to participate. Some individuals may need encouragement to talk, while others may need to talk less. Still others may want only to listen, and they must be made to feel that their comments are welcome but not compulsory. The trainer’s role is to help everyone feel comfortable and to make sense of what everyone says by summarizing and by grouping related ideas. At the same time, the trainer is the most knowledgeable member of the group. The trainer is the one responsible for making sure the objectives – what everyone is to learn – are met.
Small-group discussions. At work, small groups consist of co workers who are involved in projects, committees and teams. In small-group discussion, two to six participants discuss issues among themselves with a facilitator. Through this method, every one has a chance to speak up without being intimidated by the larger group. Usually, each small group has a representative who presents the small group’s ideas to the larger group.
Again, the trainer’s role is to make sure everyone feels comfortable about talking. While no one should ever be pressured to speak, small-group discussions usually allow even the most timid to contribute. Once small groups have discussed an issue, the trainer helps representatives summarize these issues for the large group. The trainer’s responsibilities, once again, are to connect the ideas and help participants gain meaning and insight from them.
Simulations. In a simulation, trainees get a chance to practice new skills as if they were in a work situation. Recall that in a lecture, trainees simply listen to information, and in group discussions they add their input to the trainer’s information. In a simulation, trainees actually try out what they have learned. Along with practice and experience, they also get feedback — that is, comments about what they have done well and how they could improve. By acting out new skills in a simulation, trainees get a practice run before they apply these skills in the actual situation.
Simulation exercises take several forms. One is role-plays, in which two or more trainees interact. For example, suppose the purpose of the training session is to help new supervisors interview potential employees. In a role-play, trainees would practice the interview techniques they have learned. One trainee would play the role of the applicant, and another that of the supervisor. When the mock interview is over, the other trainees give feedback to the supervisor based on the techniques and methods covered during the session. Particularly when the group is small, every participant may have a chance to act the supervisor’s role. But even when only a few play supervisor, all participants benefit because they learn from watching each other and from giving feedback.
Another simulation is the in-basket exercise: one trainee at a time deals with events or situations that could occur on the job. For example, the training session may be about the flow of information within an organization. An in-basket exercise might consist of a number of requests for information about which the trainee has to make decisions. What is the order of priority of these requests? Which requests should be handled by another department? What is the proper way to deny inappropriate requests? Usually, in-basket exercises are done individually, and the trainer gives feedback to the trainee.
Simulations may be designed to match the unique work setting of each trainee or group of trainees. The advantage of simulations is that they give participants a way to practice what they learn, and they provide for feedback about trainees’ behavior.
Self-awareness exercises. These exercises take many forms. Most of them, however, are paper-and-pencil questionnaires designed by psychologists, counselors, consultants, teachers, and other professionals. Trainees are instructed to answer the questions as honestly as possible. Based on interpretations prepared by professionals, the trainer describes to trainees the meanings of their answers. For example, a self-awareness exercise may give the trainees information about how assertive, aggressive, or timid they are. Depending on the results, trainees may want to develop skills in certain areas where they feel they need and want to improve. The key to self-awareness exercises is that the trainee gets feedback about his or her self-image. It is important to recognize, however, that no self-awareness instrument is foolproof. First, it can be useful only if the trainee’s answers are open and accurate. Second, the wording of the questions may be misleading or, at best, open to interpretation. Third, no instrument can measure all of a person. The best a self-awareness instrument can do is to describe general tendencies of an individual. Each individual must decide how useful this information is. The trainer’s role is to help individuals identify their needs and to provide resources to meet these needs. All of these teaching skills contribute to a trainer’s effectiveness.
In addition to effective communication and teaching skills, trainers need data-gathering skills. Data gathering, in this context, means finding out what training needs an organization has, a process crucial to successful training. A training program without accurate data gathering is like a medical operation without a diagnosis: potentially dangerous. Trainers use various methods to gather data.
A needs assessment is a step-by-step process through which the trainer learns what training must be implemented in an organization.
Why is it so hard to find out about training needs? Aren’t they self-evident? The answer is that training needs are expressed in ambiguous, indirect ways. For example, suppose an employee named John has been on the job for two months and his performance ranges from poor to average. We are tempted to say that John’s mediocre performance means he does not know how to do the job. However, it also could mean any number of other things, such as:
John’s supervisor does not know how to give instructions effectively.
John’s coworkers do not know how to do their jobs, and their inefficiency hurts John’s performance.
The company’s standards are not effectively communicated to employees.
Many other possible explanations of John’s performance exist. Needs-assessment skills are required so that the trainer can find out which is the real training need.
The specific steps in needs analysis are discussed in chapter 4.
In a task analysis, the step by step components, or content, of a job are identified. The purpose of task analysis is to find out what, specifically, a person must know and what he or she must be able to do in order to perform the job well, and then to devise a training program to fit that need.
Job descriptions give an overview of individual jobs. Most job descriptions, however, include only general duties and responsibilities. They usually do not state exactly what skills or behaviors an employee must have to do the job well. For example. the job description for a receptionist’s position may read that the receptionist must be friendly. The word “friendly” is too vague, because everyone has a different idea of what it means. To one person, friendly means not being directly critical. To another. it means starting a conversation. To a third, it means sharing personal information. A more accurate job description would specify exactly which behaviors are meant by friendly: frequent eye contact smiling, relaxed body language, and so forth. Because most job descriptions do not include these specific behaviors, task analysis by an effective trainer identifies exactly what an employee does on the job.
As with most of the work trainers do, the data-gathering process involves direct contact with people. A primary method of data gathering is the one-on-one interview, in which the trainer talks with employees to learn their perceptions of training needs.
In most cases, the trainer will not interview all employees because this would be too costly in terms of time and money. Usually, employees are chosen to be interviewed on the basis of random selection. A specific problem, however, sometimes requires interviewing all employees within a particular department, branch office, or other subgroup within the organization.
To interview effectively, the trainer must use all the skills already described to create an atmosphere in which the interviewee will feel comfortable. The employee’s comfort level is a major issue in the usefulness of interviews. If employees do not feel confident that they can trust the trainer, they are not likely to give that person candid information.
In addition, the trainer must be skilled in asking the right questions. Suppose, for example, that a company wanted to find out how many employees would sign up for job-related classes at a local university if the firm paid for tuition and books. In this case, the appropriate questions would be relatively specific and straight forward: “Would you take classes if the company paid for them?” Or, “If so, which classes would interest you?” These kinds of questions call for “yes-no” or equally specific answers.
Suppose, however, that the company wanted information that was much less structured. For example, a firm might want to find out how employees felt about job-related education. Rather than ask questions that called for “yes-no” kinds of answers, the trainer in this case would use questions that called for more individual input from employees. Open-ended questions might be “How much responsibility do you think the company should take for employee education, and how much should employees take?” Or, “What do you think the firm’s philosophy about employee education is, and what do you think it should be?” These open-ended questions elicit from employees those issues that are most important to them.
Therefore, if the firm wants to learn which issues are of concern to employees, open-ended questions are most useful. However, if the firm wants specific feedback about a particular topic, “yes-no” questions are most appropriate. The trainer’s responsibility is to make certain that the types of questions asked are appropriate to the purpose of the interviews.
Another form of data gathering is the written survey, in which all employees anonymously answer questions about the organization. As in the interview method, the key here is the appropriateness of the questions. While open-ended questions are possible in written surveys, the most common are “yes-no” questions or those that require employees to rate items on three-, five-, or ten-point scales.
In many cases, trainers design the survey instruments. In addition to the types of answers called for by the questions, the trainer must consider the relevance of the questions themselves. What if a survey asked employees about five issues that management considered important, but failed to address issues that employees thought important? This issue of relevance is called validity, and trainers must make certain their survey instruments are as valid as possible.
Another consideration is the readability of the questions them selves. If a trainer is too familiar with his or her intended meanings, there is some risk that the questions may not be as clear as the trainer thinks they are. In designing and using surveys. trainers must recognize that written instruments lack the interaction that exists in the interview method. Trainers must compensate for this limitation by making surveys valid and by writing them clearly.
Once data are gathered. they need to be analyzed to be useful. Data analysis is the process of interpreting information to identify what it means about an organization. Statistical analysis is a form of data analysis that deals with quantitative (i.e. numerical) information. Statistical analysis helps determine what issues are most important to employees, the degree of importance of each issue, the relative costs of problems and solutions, how an organization stands compared to its competitors, and a number of other items. Statistical analysis also helps determine whether improvements following a training program are due to the program or to chance. While trainers do not need to be statisticians, they do have to understand enough about data analysis to evaluate and interpret information they gather.
Data-gathering skills provide trainers with real information about problems, so trainers can design programs that contribute effectively to solutions and evaluate their programs once they are in operation.
Trainers often teach various kinds of technological skills: computer programming, computer operating, reading blueprints, writing technical reports, operating a forklift, designing microchips, repairing equipment, splicing genes, and a host of other skills. As you can see, the range is incredibly wide.
No one trainer can perform or teach all of these skills. In this sense, the ability to train is not generic; that is, having good training skills does not mean you can teach anything. At the same time, being good in a technological field does not mean you can teach it. In technological areas, a trainer must first be an expert in the field and, second, must have effective training skills.
Organizational politics present many challenges to trainers. Often. these challenges are overlooked or misunderstood, and they can hurt the trainer who is unaware of them. The issue of politics within an organization can evoke negative reactions from people. To keep the topic as neutral, but as realistic, as possible, we will define politics as the continuing process of negotiating relationships, but not meaning special favoritism based on personal relationships.
According to our definition, professional and organizational relationships, as with other relationships, are dynamic, constantly evolving processes rather than static events. Subtle shifts, nuances, personal growth, and other issues continually affect our relationships at work. As each person and situation changes, we renegotiate how we will relate to each other. This negotiation does not take place in a formal way; instead, it happens in the ways we behave toward each other.
As an example, suppose Joe is a new employee in a department where everyone else has been employed for three or more years. Over time, this department already has developed its own norms, or ways of behaving. Everyone knows John does not want to chat on Monday mornings; Susan always shows up early; Mary is likely to be late finishing her work; and so on. Relationships have been established over time. As a newcomer, Joe has to find ways to fit in, to identify those behaviors that will help him get along with his coworkers, and to help his coworkers find ways to behave toward him. His presence in the established group creates changes in the group’s dynamics. Because each person has to be considered, and because Joe’s behavior affects that of others, the group renegotiates relationships or, more simply, finds new ways to relate to each other. Again, these changes may be very subtle, but they still exist.
On a larger scale, organizational politics takes into account that everyone within the organization affects everyone else, and that these relationships are always changing. Within this context, issues of power — the ability to make decisions and carry them out — become crucial. For example, budgetary constraints dictate that certain programs will be funded while others will not. Often, decisions about which projects to fund and which to eliminate depend more on politics than on the objective value of any particular program. While many programs may be valuable objectively, only one or two can be funded. Again, the relationships involved, the politics, may influence these decisions.
The issue of politics is crucial to trainers because in many companies and agencies, training departments are weak politically. Sometimes, the entire training function — not just a specific program — is downsized or even eliminated. It is naive to think that the value of training will speak for itself. With many departments competing for limited budgets, trainers must be able to use the existing political system to make sure their role and function get fair consideration. The objective is to attract support from top management by emphasizing the value-added, or bottom-line improvement, that training contributes to the firm. Trainers need to earn and maintain the support of top management — as well as the support of the other levels and of teams — if the training role is to survive. Even when the training function is valued, trainers need support from all levels, including top management, before they will be able to gather the data they need to develop training programs. Trainers, therefore, need a certain amount of political astuteness before they can be effective.
Cultural Diversity Skills
Trainers must communicate, assess, teach, and behave in ways to which all company employees can relate. And today’s work force is diverse in many ways: for example, race, religion, age, gender, nationality, ethnic background, language, cultural background, values, life-styles, goals, and expertise.
In its broadest sense, diversity means that everyone has his or her own needs and ways of learning. No trainer automatically knows how to deal with everyone. He or she can learn, but only by being flexible, curious, observant, and adaptable.
Content Versus Process Skills
In the data-gathering process, trainers must be careful to separate the content and process sides of the messages they deliver and receive. As a reminder, content refers to what people say, and process refers to how they say it. Often, the process conveys more meaningful information than the content.
For example, a secretary may complain that the boss “never gives me enough information to get the job done right the first time.” If you considered only the content of this message, you might assume that the boss needed help to delegate responsibilities. However, suppose that while the secretary talked to you, you noticed a tendency on his or her part to interrupt, finish your sentences for you, and ignore your questions. By observing this process of communicating, you might assume that the secretary needed help with listening skills. To gather relevant and effective data, the trainer must be skilled at identifying both the content and the process of messages.
On the process level, people often communicate subtly and indirectly. The effective trainer will notice cues, nuances, hesitations, eagerness, and signals others give. By observing, the trainer often learns when to change the topic, when to pursue a subject in greater depth, and when he or she is coming across well.
Trainers must write proposals, reports of results, materials to be used in training, and other items. The effectiveness of their ideas and programs often depends on how well they write, in addition to how well they present themselves. Trainers’ writing skills, as well as their speaking skills, are important.
The trainer must be a specialist in communication. Trainers should excel in interpersonal skills, interviewing, group decision making, and a number of other areas. They must also be able to apply their knowledge and experience to work situations, and to convey their information in ways employees can understand and use.
Big Picture Versus Details
The trainer must maintain two views at the same time. The first
view is the big picture, the organization as a whole; the second is the detailed view, in which the trainer sees how each individual fits into the big picture. The ability to take an overview and then analyze its details enables the trainer to teach others to the benefit of both individuals and the organization.
To develop a background in training, trainers need to become familiar with a number of skills. Communication skills include a supportive approach, active listening, positive and constructive feedback, congruence between verbal and nonverbal behavior, and responsibility for feelings.
Teaching skills include organizational skills, awareness of adult learners’ needs, facilitative ability, and the ability to conduct large- and small-group discussions, simulations, and self-awareness exercises. Effective trainers also have the data-gathering skills of needs assessments, task analysis, interviews, surveys. and data analysis.
Technological skills, political skills, and cultural diversity skills enhance the trainer’s ability to have impact on the organization. Content versus process skills include observation, writing, content specialties, and big picture versus details.
Because life is a continuous learning process, remember that no one starts out completely knowledgeable about T & D; we all learn as we work. What is important is that we start out with a clear understanding of what we need to learn.