Are we giving communication training enough credence??
Think of the incredible variety in communication. When we speak we inform and advise, complain, question, challenge, guide and share. We communicate our acceptance or rejection of a notion, our feelings about an event, our wants, needs and desires, our deepest musings and our wildest dreams. We flavour our discourse with sarcasm, anger or aggression, humour, fear or bravado, dismissal, arrogance or defiance, conciliation, love and appreciation or hatred and contempt. Communication can depend upon our pecking order within a hierarchy, our social status, education, gender, culture and role in a society or organisation and it is almost always shaped by our history, our self worth and our values and beliefs. Yes, it’s very complicated!!!
Now, bring two people face to face, armed with this incredibly complex array of behavioural drivers, and ask them to engage in an argument where those drivers synchronise to the degree that the outcome is civil (a “Win-Win”, according to noted social scientist, Morton Deutsch). The fact that this goes wrong so often should surprise no one!!
But, over the years I have noticed a decline in the amount of time, money and energy organisations wish to dedicate to conflict management programs. Once upon a time, organisations would put their staff through programs lasting several days, whereas now many are asking for 90-minute face-to-face lectures or 20-minute online modules. “Short” online courses used to be several hours in length, but in today’s corporations the word short is used to describe videos that are less than ten minutes in length” (Craig Robbins, www.Prositions.com, 2019)
How does that relate to conflict management? Most industries are experiencing huge increases in aggression towards staff and managing these incidents is harder than ever. Given the current trend elsewhere in the world, it does appear likely this aggression will decrease anytime soon. Now,consider some of these statistics from 2008 ...
Australian Statistics on Workplace stress
· Workplace stress is costing the Australian economy $14.81 billion per year
· Stress related presenteeism and absenteeism are directly costs Australian employers $10.11 billion per year
· 3.2 days per worker are lost each year through workplace stress
(Medibank Private Research Published 2008)
Australian Work and Life Index conducted in March and April, released July 2008
Impact of workplace stress on personal relationships
· 50% of respondents state they are too tired to say anything to their spouse or partner at the end of a 12 hour day
· 55% say work interferes with their sex life
(Dr Sylvia Ann Hewlett, President of the Centre for Work-Life (NY) Dec 2006)
When we devote adequate time to communication and conflict management training, we ensure that staff manages challenging behaviour appropriately and effectively. In addition, workers that are supported through ongoing personal and professional development experience a greater sense or morale and exhibit increased productivity.
It could be argued that lectures and short training workshops are inadequate for such an important subject and should be considered introductory information sessions only. But we have to realistic here. Asking the question how much communication training is enough is like asking how long is a piece of string and it is obvious that you can only operate your organisations within the constraints of your rosters, schedules and budgets. The better question is how can we get the most from our training?
Making training stick
According to London-based freelance writer and journalist, Marianne Stenger, writing for www.opencolleges.edu.au, “… research shows that within just one hour, if nothing is done with new information, most people will have forgotten about 50% of what they learned. After 24 hours, this will be 70%, and if a week passes without that information being used, up to 90% of it could be lost.”
So, how do we get the most out of workplace training in conflict communication and management?
Consider these four R’s...
1. Review Training
The content team at www.mindtools.com suggests, “To remember what we've learned over the long-term, we need to move information from short-term memory (what we're currently thinking about or aware of) into long-term memory. To do this, we need to review what we've learned, and we need to do this often.”
Learning is mostly done “top-down”, as managers and supervisors can be effective drivers of the learning. Organisations must require leaders to reinforce the content of training in several stages; after one day, one week and then one month. By reviewing the notes of the training, staff are coaxing the information into long-term memory. Most of the time this only requires skimming over the headings and doesn’t involve the kind of deep learning recommended for initial learning stages.
It is often possible to turn simple training programs into potent campaigns. Consider;
· Sending global emails reminding staff of the information learned in training. These can be from management or from the original course facilitator
· Placing posters within strategic locations throughout the workplace, containing information to be recalled
· Providing “Memory-Joggers” that can be placed within day books, in plastic sleeves attached to lanyards, or simple stuck to the front of a desktop computer
· Adding the information to a staff-meeting agenda
3. Role Plays
According to the National Training Laboratories, located in Bethel, Maine, US, the percentage of information retained depends upon the way that information is delivered.
Within their Learning Pyramid, they suggest that up to 75% of information is retained when a person practices doing something. This is best achieved in a life-like environment, for example, using actors to portray angry customers, rather than work colleagues.
Finally, conduct refresher training to allow your staff to revisit the original information and then dig deeper into the subject. Of course, logistics will determine when you get the opportunity to do that and how long you can devote to this task, but having a subject-matter expert attend and guide staff through the pitfalls of conflict communication, can give staff the opportunity to ask questions, consolidate their understanding of the material and learn more about a topic.
To change the culture of an organisation, total immersion is required. If you want your people to learn the many facets of communication, with all of its complicated methods and modes, subtleties and nuances, contrasts and ambiguities, then you have to expose them to an appropriate amount of training and back that up with follow-up information.