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Trainer’s tip: Excuses, excuses


LIGHTBULBYou've probably heard all the excuses under the sun for participants not to get involved: 'I've got no imagination’, 'I can't think what to say, 'I don't like being observed’. How do you counter these arguments? Trainers share their experiences and advice.

Liz Hollingsworth asked on our Any Answers forum: Delegates come up with all kinds of excuses not to participate in skills practices. All my skills practices are done in small groups, usually no more than three (adviser, customer and observer) and occasionally six (adviser, customer and four observers). Recent discussions have centred on "I've got no imagination, so I can't think of what to say" "It's not real!" "I don't like being observed." and "I find it hard because it's my colleague that I'm interviewing" I am sure training colleagues have heard them all, and more!
What I would like to know is how you handle it, in particular what counter arguments do you have, and how do you let one or two people off without the rest of the group feeling discriminated against?

Sinead Walker says atmosphere is important – and don't push nervous people too far:
I run a lot of skills practices in my training courses. It is the nature of the beast unfortunately! I try and make the atmosphere as laid back and as real as possible eg I will supply props that they can use to recreate the scene. This also adds an element of humour to the situation.
I also allow delegates to press a call bell if they are struggling at any point. They can then seek advice from the rest of the team/group and recommence the skills practice.
Other than that I think you just need to stress that this is a safe environment in which to practice their skills.
I find that the majority of delegates are surprised at how much they really enjoy these sessions. But if someone is really nervous, pushing them to get involved could have a really negative effect on them and their willingness to participate in the rest of the training.

Rich Lucas agrees that it has to be a safe environment:
Depending on the group, I liken it to sports, eg before a boxer fights, he has to do sparring, its not real, but its a safe environment where they can practice their skills

Sue Beatt says the client is always right! And find reasons for praise:
One thing to do is not counter-argue when they say it isn't real. Agree with them - it isn't, but as Rich says, it's an opportunity to practise in a safe environment. A concert pianist doesn't practise his scales in front of a live audience! But it's the hours of practice and making mistakes that allow them to be so good when they do.
Another thing I try to do is ensure that I concentrate first on what they have done well when giving the feedback and encourage observers to do the same. (if using an observer sheet, that's the first thing on it). Once people realise they are not going to be slated or made a fool of, they are more likely to participate.
If they are having trouble putting themselves 'in character', give them details of who they are going to be as the customer/interviewee and examples of the sort of things they could say.

Ehsan Honary says individuals often don’t like the limelight:
I pretty much agree with all the comments. Certainly putting the delegates at ease is the way to go. In my experience, delegates are usually quite happy to participate in exercises in groups among themselves. As soon as they realise that they are involved in a paired exercise, they get all excited. Equally, they are happy when they have to participate in an exercise which involves the whole group like an energizer. It's only when a person is singled out and expected to role play in front of everyone else that some people feel nervous and not so happy to participate.
One solution is to include more non-role play exercises so everyone will be happy. If you need to use role play, you can play it informally, use distracting props, move quickly from one topic to the next so that delegates don't feel the pressure and the silence building up and keep rotating people so that all participate. Keep it light-hearted, but don't let anyone to laugh at someone else. As a tutor, you have the final say and delegate will follow your discipline. A quick intense look at a delegate who tries to make fun of someone else is all you need to deliver the message. Then quickly move on before the atmosphere becomes emotional.
This is just a skill really. As the saying is, practice makes perfect.

Nicola Smith suggests making examples real:
I'm a great fan of pre-course work for engaging delegates in the learning long before they arrive in the training room. You mention it's a customer/adviser scenario so I would ask each delegate, as part of their joining instructions, to visit a shop where they need to ask for advice - buying a new DVD player, mobile phone, washing machine, or any item that requires the shop assistant to give advice (or it could be done over the telephone). They are then both customer and observer and when they get home they should make some notes about the experience, or if you like give them some guidance notes of what to look out for.
Next, they write down a description of the shop assistant's/telephone adviser's behaviour, what they said, how they said it, general demeanour and bring it to the course.
This scenario forms the basis of your first skills practice exercise. The author plays the adviser - if it was a positive experience great, the customer and observer get to see that. If it was a negative experience this also works as the customer and observer learn those from those aspects.
This way your delegates are drawing on real experience, and everyone can draw valuable learning points.
From here on you have set the scene for more skills practice, only now they will be working with your scenarios.
The other effect of doing this is that people turn up eager to share and get involved.

What are your experiences and advice? If you've got something to add, you can post it as a comment below.

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Reluctant skills practitioners

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