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Tackling Tough Topics
Some elements of training are difficult, but you’ll get through them because you are a professional. You may be asked to facilitate a subject that is very sensitive, or could find yourself part way through a presentation and learn that you have struck a nerve and will need to adjust your material.
Tough Stuff to Watch Out For
Imagine that you have just been asked to provide health and safety training for your organization. You have never given this kind of training before, and in reality know little about it. However, there was a serious injury at the workplace two weeks ago that left one worker dead and another seriously injured. The difficulty is not just that someone died on the worksite, but also that you, as the in-house trainer, know all of these people very well.
What can you do to identify these difficult situations before training and be prepared for them?
Adjusting Your Material for a Sensitive Issue
Sometimes the unexpected can arise in an otherwise harmless training sessions. People can often be pre-occupied with unfinished tasks at work, family pressures, and many other things. If you are treading close to emotional issues, it is possible that you will strike a nerve with someone. In addition, sometimes we are addressing sensitive issues in training that people may react emotionally to.
The greatest tools for you in adjusting your materials come to light before your actual training takes place. If you have been able to do some pre-training survey work, or even just interviewed a supervisor, then you will uncover the issues before entering the training room, and be able to prepare yourself for what will follow.
If you do not have the luxury of pre-training interviews, then your flexibility at managing a classroom, dealing with change, offering support, and creating a safe learning environment will all contribute to the success of this training endeavor.
Dealing With Sensitive Issues in the Workshop
One way to deal with sensitive issues is to provide an attitude survey before a tough topic is discussed. This allows participants to put their thoughts and reactions on paper, and provides them with some thinking and adjusting time before the topic is discussed aloud among the group, or before other activities get underway.
Here are some tips for using an attitude survey in your training:
- It does not have to be called an attitude survey. Title it as something that makes sense and fits with your training plan. The term “attitude survey” is here for you to see, but might seem intimidating for participants depending on the subject.
- Participants may not want to reveal their answers to one another. Watch closely to ensure that people are not intruding on one another by forcing someone to reveal their thoughts.
- The attitude survey can be a good pre- and post-training activity. Participants can use the tool to monitor their own thinking or shift in perception throughout the training process.
It may seem straightforward to offer an attitude survey, but you need to watch your language. Make sure that statements are not open to interpretation or bias, by using clear and simple language. It also helps in our program design stage to have a colleague review the questions or statements with you so that you can prepare an effective survey.
One of the best ways a facilitator can anticipate problems in a group discussion is to set ground rules. Ground rules orient participants with what is expected from them. Moreover, they set boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behavior during the discussion. For best results, ground rules must be set in a consultative fashion, with the rules, and sometimes the consequences of violation of rules, negotiated among members of the group and agreed upon by consensus.
When setting ground rules, it is important to both verify if the rules are understood, and if they are acceptable. Make sure too that a documentation of the ground rules is available for everyone, either as a hand-out or posted in a flipchart paper for everyone to see.
Ground rules in a group meeting can relate to:
- How to make the most of the meeting. For example: practice timely attendance, participate fully.
- How to make a contribution to the discussion. For example: do the members raise their hands and ask the facilitator for permission to speak; use I-messages.
- How members should treat other members. For example: “don’t interrupt whoever is speaking, listen actively to whoever has the floor, accept that everyone has a right to their own opinion, no swearing or any aggressive behavior.
- Issues relating to confidentiality. Example: all matters discussed in the group shall remain within the group. This is also the moment for the facilitator to reveal if the minutes of the meeting will remain solely for his or her reference, or will it be given to an authority in the organization.
- How violations of ground rules would be addressed. Example: the use of graduated interventions from warning to expulsion from the group.
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You probably have an idea of your own personality type. A personality type is defined by the aspects of your character that emerge when around others or when doing important work. These character aspects are, as often as not, described as “soft skills”. You may have been described as “maternal”, “skeptical”, “humorous”, or any number of other things. These are issues which do not relate directly to your work but can aid or restrict your ability to do it, and can aid or restrict others. It is considered beneficial to have as many different types of personality in a workplace as possible.
There are countless tests that can be done to detect a personality type, and many different ways the results can be expressed, but there are certain things which hold true in all personality tests. Perhaps the best way in the workplace to detect a personality type is to judge your reaction to a problem which affects a whole team, or a group within it. Are you immediately looking for a way of overcoming the problem? Are you instinctively worried by what happens, and do you look to other people to help out? Do you comfort people who are stressed out by the problem? Or do you perhaps sit on the fringes, making comments and playing for laughs? Strange as it may sound, all of these elements are worthwhile in a team. The person who immediately looks for the solution is a “problem solver”; the second type is a “consensus seeker”. The third is considered a “nurturer” while the last listed is a “humorist”. All of these are classic personality types.
Equally, all of these people, and others, play a major part in making up a workplace.
- Without the problem solvers, an organization would be in trouble if things deviated from the plan as laid out.
- Without consensus seekers, it would be easy for a problem solver to become too autonomous, solving the problem to their satisfaction without being particularly concerned for how others felt about the solution.
- Without the nurturers, people would feel that a problem could too easily become a crisis.
- Without the humorists a bad situation would depress everyone.
Reason and etiquette dictate how much we allow our personality to take control of us, but most people will avoid becoming too “cliché” in how they behave.
The following list is a handy reference of the types of activities that can be the right fit for your training. Although some of the headings may overlap, the definitions are here to give you a better understanding of the range of activities that can be used.
Game: A game is an exercise that normally has a set of rules and an element of competition. Games often include some kind of reward.
Icebreakers: Icebreakers are used as an exercise to introduce group members to one another (break the ice), encourage some energy into the beginning of a workshop, and lead into the topic material. They are an important starting point to your training session.
Energizer: An energizer is a brief pick-me-up activity designed to invigorate a group if energy in the room is waning, or to bring them back together following a break. Energizers are often about five minutes long.
Simulations: A simulation is useful to train equipment operators when the tools that they will use are either very expensive or dangerous. Simulations are designed to be as realistic as possible so that participants can learn from the situation without worrying about damage or financial cost. Flying aircraft, offshore emergency evacuation procedures, combat training, and driving all make use of simulation training.
Role Plays: Role-playing is a helpful way to understand how participants react to certain situations. They are a very useful approach for practicing new skills in a non-threatening environment, where a participant learns to apply behavioral techniques and gets feedback without fear of making a mistake in front of their own customers or clients. Role-plays are helpful in learning conflict management, counseling, sales, negotiating, and many other skills.
Case Studies: Case studies are stories normally extracted from a participant’s workplace or industry. They can also be written specifically to simulate a scenario. Case studies are often examined by individuals or groups and then analyzed to stimulate discussion or demonstrate aspects of training.