The other day I received an eight-page flyer in the mail promoting a one-day workshop on people skills. Since I'm completing my doctoral work in Adult and Organizational Learning and my company teaches people skills in our management development programs and workshops, I was a bit surprised to see the claim being made on the flyer's front page:
"Master the interpersonal skills essential to building positive and productive relationships … even with the most difficult people."
Master interpersonal skills? Even with the most difficult people? In only one day?
Those words are gripping. They're results-oriented. They're definitive. But they're nonsense.
Is it possible for common sense to prevail? It's about time someone takes issue with the "magic wand" promises made by traveling road shows.
Depending on which study you read and which industry you're considering, the average age of a manager is somewhere between 30 and 47. Anyone who tells me that one can master a skill in one day and override 10 or 20 years of deeply embedded emotional patterns is watching too many late-night infomercials.
Learning about a skill is one thing. Practicing it is another. But mastering a skill as complex as dealing with "difficult" people simply can't happen with a day-long shake of a magic wand.
Still, we see these one-day workshop flyers on a regular basis. So just like the late night infomercials, someone must be buying or the advertiser wouldn't keep advertising.
What's the reason for their popularity?
Primarily, with time so precious, it makes sense to send people to one day's instruction with the goal of them improving on a skill. The cost seems reasonable for a day's training, and besides, where else can a manager send just one person for a workshop?
Those sound like good reasons. They certainly make sense, especially considering a business owner or manager doesn't have a lot of time to explore the options available. But let's consider the bigger picture.
If a person needs to improve interpersonal skills and has trouble dealing with "difficult" people, it's pretty hard to get specific needs addressed in a room full of strangers from a broad range of industries.
Jon Busack, a Professional Development Specialist with the Center for Professional Development at Boise State University, agrees. He views such workshops as drawn out sales pitches for buying further training from the company providing the workshop.
"There's no support after the day is over," Busack says. "No one to call to ask specific questions. Too often it's just an expensive networking opportunity."
In terms of behavioral change, support is the name of the game. People who learn new approaches for dealing with people need time to practice them. They need accountability and the opportunity to discuss successes and failures as they start implementing their new skills. With traveling road shows, that possibility doesn't exist - even if one buys and absorbs their books and tapes.
I may be a little biased in my recommendations, but in sixteen years I've seen the good, the bad, the better, and best. Granted, sometimes a traveling road show is all one can do. They result in a little knowledge and some understanding, but very little in terms of practical application. Let's call that solution hovering somewhere around "good."
"Better" (much better) is to have several short, digestible training sessions specifically for your organization. The opportunity for participants to come back and discuss successes and failures with co-workers and a facilitator drives home learning in very practical ways. The cost-per-person is usually on par with sending people to a traveling road show, only the material is focused directly to your organization's needs.
Besides, "the tailored follow-up," Busack says, "is a huge value."
"Best" would be one-on-one coaching. Considering what little attention a single individual gets in a large classroom of strangers, a few hours of one-on-one that's spread out over a few weeks and geared specifically to an individual's needs will yield the best results.
It may seem more expensive, but really it's not. The return on investment (that is, the benefits of your employee actually applying what is taught) far outweighs the costs.
If it's lasting results you want, one-day magic wands can't do it. Look at other options and find one that's feasible for your time and budget. They're out there, and the return is certainly worth it.