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Annie Ward


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Trainer’s Diary: Mandatory Courses


Byron Kalies
Imagine this problem; you've far too many people on your training events. Every session is over-subscribed and you can't get any time off. What on earth can you do?

I know, make it mandatory. That'll slow down the take up.

So, how does that happen? I guess it's linked to the work of Jack Brehm looking at his reactance theory. This theory states that if you limit someone's choice they will react by trying to re-establish that choice, or even reacting negatively to the imposed choice.

For instance, if you don't mind if you have a Mars bar or a Kit-Kat from a chocolate machine, but find that they only have Mars bars you will walk a considerable distance to buy a Kit-Kat. Thus re-establishing your freedom. This has been borne up by a mass of fascinating experiments by Jack Brehm.

It's has also become common practice in the sales environment. There are a number of techniques used to force people to choose. For instance there's the 'take away technique' and the 'you can't afford it tactic'. When a salesperson is trying to sell something they will often meet resistance.

This resistance can be overcome by the salesperson saying that the offer is for one day only, or that although the article would be perfect for them it's doubtful they could afford it. These tactics tend to work as they raise the reactance level in people. You know yourself what it's like when people tell you what not to do.

Think Romeo and Juliet. If you've got a teenage child you'll know what I mean. Someone once told me about a situation with their teenage child. As the boy was walking out of the door for an evening out the parent shouted, "Have a nice time." The boy replied, "Don't tell me what to do,” and subsequently slammed the door.

In training terms if you try to force someone to attend a training course, well you can work out the rest. If that doesn't work and they still want to attend, why not threaten to hard charge them. That will really worry them. In sales terms it's a variation of the 'you can't afford it tactic' plus a little transactional analysis (TA).

The TA angle comes from us telling people they'll be hard charged, or disciplined, if they don't do as we tell them. It will, of course, create a reactance in people and force them into assuming a naughty child attitude.

This is all designed to get them to do exactly what you don't, really, want them to do. Or do you?

4 Responses

  1. TA, but not as we know it.
    “The TA angle comes from us telling people they’ll be hard charged, or disciplined, if they don’t do as we tell them. It will, of course, create a reactance in people and force them into assuming a naughty child attitude.”

    This assertion that adopting what I have presumed is an aspect of Controlling Parent Ego will ‘force’ an individual into naughty child attitude (again presumably; Adapted Child) is simple not true for a number of reasons.

    1. The adoption of One Ego state and the resultant behaviours employed does not ‘force’ anyone to change or adapt their own Ego Position. We all have choices and I can see many more options to the situation outlined above other than moving to Adapted Child.

    2. The adoption of a particular Ego State does not incur a standard response from an alternate Ego State.

    3. Telling someone that they will be hard charged does not necessarily mean that a Parent Ego State would be employed to deliver such a message, though it seems to be implied here.

    With the exception of the TA reference, which is I think significantly flawed both in logic and in the application TA concepts, I thought this article made some interesting observations on the situation of mandatory courses.

  2. perfect illustration
    This is a classic example of what I mean. Yes I get that no response will
    automatically trigger another response. However having
    read this In feel like I’ve been told off by a critical parent and my first instict is to reply by
    having a little tantrum and getting all defensive (or sulking as it’s otherwise known). But I won’t.

  3. Supposition?
    But that’s your response pattern Byron, to extend that to a generalisation that others will react in the same way is a false assumption and runs contrary to the suppositions of Berne and doubtless the personal experience of others.

  4. Mandatory Courses = Mandatory Problems!
    It is (I believe) a widely held belief that mandatory courses are a pain in the butt. Why? Because someone has decided to ‘impose their will’ on others, resulting in students who are not motivated to attend or learn and in training events that do not take into account their (students) prior learning, nor learning needs.

    This makes the job of the trainer much harder as they need to deal with any negative attitudes at the start of the course, failure to do so properly is likely to result in an unsuccessful event.

    So in one sense I would agree with the ‘reactance theory’ approach, but of course that is only one theory. Jungian psychology would suggest that ‘extroverted thinkers’ might well react in the way the article describes, but ‘introverted feelers’ would probably not.

    What really confuses me is that whole premise that you would want to limit or reduce demand for a course that was highly successful…seems to me that what you really need is either more resources or (assuming you are trying to make a living and not part of an ‘in-house’ organisation) to put your prices up! This then become more of a question of economics (supply and demand) than one of psychology…but maybe that’s just my reaction…

    Paul Hollands
    Alefounder Associates Limited

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Annie Ward

Editor, HR Zone

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