Yesterday I had coffee with a new acquaintance. I’ll call her Deb.*
When I explained what I do for a living (design new training programs for adults; coach subject-matter experts to teach and train better; coach writing), Deb told me about a two-day workshop she attended recently. Here are the salient details:
- The training was a nationally-known program based on a best-selling book, and led in-house by the human resources staff of Deb’s company.
- The training involved learning scripted conversations, and practicing the scripts during role plays.
- Deb’s boss arranged for her to attend.
- Deb’s an introvert — but not shy. She needs to ponder and process her thoughts internally before speaking.
- Deb’s intelligent, educated (has a masters degree from a U.S. university), and practical.
- Deb’s from a country in Southeast Asia, and speaks excellent English.
So…Deb really didn’t like the training.
The reasons Deb disliked the training
1. The scenarios she was asked to practice weren’t realistic to her.
For example, one dealt with what she should say to a colleague she suspected of stealing from the company. She said that was not something she would ever address on the job because she’s not in that kind of role.
2. She wasn’t permitted to paraphrase the script.
She was instructed to read directly from the script. And she didn’t think it was realistic to memorize snippets of language and repeat them verbatim in actual conversations. “What, do I have to pull out the script during the meeting and read from it?” she asked me.
3. She wanted more time.
She didn’t want to jump into role plays without having time to think them through, or to think about the scripts.
4. The less comfortable Deb felt participating, the higher her affective filter grew.
She said by the second day, she was so anxious about participating in the role plays that she couldn’t even hear what the trainers were saying.
5. She may have experienced language and cultural barriers.
Finally, Deb didn’t say much about the cross-linguistic and cross-cultural context for the training, but I saw some potential issues:
- For example, the scenario about stealing might have dictated a course of action Deb would never have taken for cultural reasons — or a course of action that simply baffled her for cultural reasons. (I’m thinking of about a dozen situations I experienced when I lived in China that followed a wholly different set of rules than would be appropriate in the United States.)
- Furthermore, if the scripts used language that felt unnatural to her, using that language would seem even more challenging.
What Deb’s experience left me with was a series of questions.
- What could the trainers have done to make the event more useful and comfortable for Deb?
- What could the instructional designer have done to anticipated Deb’s needs?
- What could Deb have done to advocate for her needs during the event?
Do you have ideas for how to answer these questions? I do — and will post in the coming weeks! But for now, I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.
*Deb is not her real name, but I asked her permission to write about her story.