We think the term ‘training’ is too restrictive, and we only use it because that is the context within which many organisations can understand what we do. But whether you call it people skills training, interpersonal skills training, soft skills training or professional personal development, what we’re talking about is people changing what they do in order to be more effective, more able and quite simply, happier at their job and in their personal lives.
What we do know is that people take on new behaviours best when there is a parallel shift in their personal development. Interpersonal skills aren’t just something you use at the workplace and then leave at the office when you go home. The whole person is what’s important, and any programme Impact Factory creates has stuff in it that people can use in all aspects of their lives.
Individuals need to be skilled in what they can do to positively affect the outcome of any kind of communication. This is true if the communication is a presentation to 500 people, an annual review with a staff member, the initiation of new work practices – indeed anything that requires one person to be in communication with others.
In the simplest terms, being able to communicate effectively means relating well to other people. It means being able to listen and really hear what others are saying. Part of being a good listener is knowing how to respond without stonewalling or hijacking other people’s ideas.
It also means being able to convey information, feedback and requests clearly and directly, give appropriate levels of praise and advice and take responsibility for making sure things are understood. This means that people must be able and willing to deal with conflict and confrontation. Conflict resolution can be effectively achieved by negotiating what is known as ‘win/win’ solutions.
There is not one ‘right’ way to communicate, but there are certainly many ‘wrong’ ones. Impact Factory’s development work concentrates on what’s already working about an individual’s interpersonal skills and developing that. Gaining insight and awareness about the effect they have on others, coupled with developing specific tools and techniques for managing people, puts people more in charge of the communication process.
So why do we need it?
There have been changes in every sector where people are being asked to do more and take on more responsibility, often with less support than ever before. As a direct result of these kinds of pressures, dealing with difficult people or situations can be more problematic. Time constraints, deadline constraints and fewer people to do more work, means that communication may suffer, conflicts stay unresolved, dissatisfaction fester, tempers get frayed and inefficiency become more prevalent.
On top of that, there is an insidious assumption that if you are good at what you do – professionally – then you will be, ipso facto, a good manager, communicator, delegator, etc. That simply isn’t true. We see this across all business sectors: people who are highly capable in their jobs but are far less adept at dealing with other people. Conflict arises because not only does the organisation assume that if you’re good in one aspect of the job you’ll be good in all, but you yourself may feel you already ‘ought’ – by dint of your position – to be able to handle difficult situations and therefore, won’t ask for the support and training you need.
Some organisations have such issues well in hand and have the kind of company culture in place that supports peoples’ development. More often than not, however, organisations ignore or sideline these issues with the outcome that communication suffers and morale gets worse.
Yet if employees are motivated, confident, communicating well and resolving differences; if they are being acknowledged and appreciated, then stress is reduced, people are more efficient and effective and work means more than a place to earn a paycheque. In our experience within organisations where these skills are encouraged and developed, there is a profound affect on employees’ performance and their overall well-being, and a corresponding increase in the bottom line.
The economic implications of poor people skills in the workplace are far greater than many organisations would like to admit. We are often approached by the Occupational Health Departments of companies who say they are seeing more and more people with stress-related illnesses and absences and are aware that good training could make a significant difference in the health, morale and therefore efficiency of the staff. The cliché ‘time is money’ exists for a very good reason. If for nothing else, a better functioning workforce will affect the bottom line. Time wasted on poor communication, unresolved difficulties or inefficient work practises means time away from the core business of doing what the company does best.
Many companies know there are issues that need to be addressed; they even know that some kind of people skills training could help.
There doesn’t have to be a problem
The need for development work does not presuppose a problem. When Impact Factory provides this kind of training for many companies we aren’t there to ‘fix’ something that’s wrong.
Given the added pressures in today’s workplace, companies are not necessarily asking us to provide training to alleviate stress or correct a problem. Rather they are looking for excellence not competence. They are interested in gaining a competitive edge, offering their employees additional skills to develop their current capabilities and become both more accomplished and more confident.
So, why don’t more people do it?
Here are some refrains we’ve heard more than once:
“We tried something like this before and it didn’t work.” – “It’s clearly not right for us.” – “We don’t need it.” – “It’s a waste of time and money.” – “If we’re going to invest in training, we’d rather have technical training.” “We’ll never get buy-in from our senior managers.”
If you look at the way some interpersonal skills training is done it’s no wonder it’s got a bad reputation. A lot of it follows what might be called the sheep-dip approach: large groups; all chalk ‘n’ talk and little participation; lots of rigid rules and regulations; a damaging emphasis on what’s wrong with people; and unreal examples and exercises. That kind of training is de-motivating and often does more harm than good.
Lists of how tos, dos and don’ts and sets of rigid rules treat everyone the same. The individual becomes less important than the ‘right’ way to do something. Of course, there needs to be structure and guidelines in any kind of training, but if the training does not allow for individual needs and priorities then, ultimately, it will fail to develop the individual.
If people have had inadequate training, they will in turn feel inadequate when confronted with additional stress. The training will not have given them the real tools and techniques that could help them manage this pressure more effectively. Some assertiveness training is a good case in point, where people are told specific things to do in certain difficult situations. Which is all very well if you are capable of doing them. However, we know that for many people assertiveness training doesn’t work. The solutions they are given are not things they feel able to do.
Not only that, there are training companies now offering interpersonal skills training over the Internet! Wow! We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating, this way the sheep don’t even have to leave the meadow, they can be dipped right at their desks. We’re truly fascinated with interpersonal skills training that doesn’t have other people to be interpersonal with.
If people are treated and respected as the professional adults they are. The results can be startling, exciting and effective.
By: Robin Chandler