They may be rare, but problem situations, in which learning is inhibited due to the behavior of one or more of the students, may occur. Problem situations have something to do with the level of participation of individual students (i.e. when students participate too much or too little).
Too much participation: Students may not be able to fully participate in group or class activities when an individual student is too vocal. Overly vocal students may be merely the result of an enthusiastic interest in the course material, or it may be the result of an inner need for recognition.
Too little participation: When one participant is too vocal, others may not feel confident, adequate or otherwise comfortable participating so they remain silent. A non-participative student's valuable input may be lost from the group. In addition, the trainer may not be able to accurately assess the degree of learning that's taking place when students are silent. On the other hand, silent students may not be motivated to participate. They may be feeling stressed out due to other more-pressing job requirements.
Problem situations may occur when student behavior is perceived by the trainer as inappropriate. A student may express hostility towards the trainer, the company, or another student. Don't assume that such behavior on the part of students is a reflection of their hostility toward you or your training.
When the student appears to be overactive or inhibited in some way, there are three important strategies to consider.
To better understand what drives the behaviors of students we teach, let's take a look at some basic behavioral-based safety (BBS) concepts. These concepts explain why we do what we do in the workplace. The ABC's of safety behavior are: Activators; Behaviors; and Consequences.
We see and hear (experience) things in our external environment. These are called "activators" because they tend to activate a behavior. Sometimes safety people call them "antecedents" because they come before behaviors. Either way, you get the idea. Examples of activators at work might include what we see and hear:
What we experience influences our internal thoughts, beliefs and feelings. Below are some examples of thoughts, beliefs, and feelings about safety on the job.
We choose to engage in external behaviors. Our safety behaviors are primarily based on what we believe the consequences will be. We quickly weigh the positive consequences against the negative consequences and act on our belief. We usually choose to do things for a reason, don't we. Here are some examples of safety-related behaviors:
We then experience the consequences of the behaviors we have chosen. There are always consequences to every action, both positive or negative. For more on consequences, see Course 712, Safety Supervision and Leadership. Below are some examples of consequences that you might experience.
These consequences, then, become activators that increase or decrease the likelihood of my behaviors in the future. As you can see below, it's a grand continuous cycle of cause and effect.
Now that we have a pretty good understanding of why we behave the way we do at work and in training, we can devise some strategies that will act as activators influencing behaviors during the training session. Let's take a look at a few of these strategies.
When a participant disrupts the training try the strategies below.
1. Acknowledge the behavior by describing it without evaluation.
2.Validate the thoughts and feelings that are causing the behavior.
3. Agree to disagree. What works for one person may not work for another. There may not be a "one fits all" solution.
4. Ask others what they think: "What do others think about that...?"
5. Ask for permission to get other ideas: "Are you willing to let others express their opinions on the matter?"
Read and discuss the assigned scenario below. Identify strategies that you believe would work in eliminating or reducing the problem behavior(s) described. I'll include some possible solutions in the next section.
1. Ralph dominates the class discussion of proper accident investigation procedures and answers all the questions the trainer asks before anyone else in the group has a chance to speak. What do you do?
2. Gloria is continually interrupting the trainer's lecture on the elements of the hazard communication program to debate technical details of the subject. Her information is quite accurate. It's obvious that she has a thorough knowledge of the subject and extensive experience managing the program. What would you do?
3. Bob is responding to questions related to safety accountability with very negative opinionated comments. He just can't seem to say anything positive and it's clear others are starting to get impatient with him. What do you do?
Here are some possible solutions to the problem situations. I'm sure there are others!
1. Ralph dominates the class discussion of proper accident investigation procedures and answers all the questions the trainer asks before anyone else in the group has a chance to speak. What do you do? Believe me, when one student dominates the class, most of the other students don't like it. Some will disengage, while others will feel intimidated. Some students may be critical of your inability to maintain control of the process. In the past, when one student dominates the discussion, I usually tell him or her in a light-hearted way (with a smile), that "OK... you've used up your quota, how about someone else." I then ask others what their questions and ideas might be. A few times I have actually had to speak with the student privately during the break about giving others a chance to get involved. Thank the student and if it's done right, you won't harm the student's self-esteem.
2. Gloria is continually interrupting the trainer's lecture on the elements of the hazard communication program to debate technical details of the subject. Her information is quite accurate. It's obvious that she has a thorough knowledge of the subject and extensive experience managing the program. What do you do? First of all, don't be intimidated by an "expert" student. You're going to have them once in a while. Don't think of the student as a competitor. Rather, turn that potential competitor into an ally by acknowledging his or her expertise on the subject. However, as with the student in Scenario #1 above, the student may have a great need to be recognized and appreciated, so go ahead and give'm what they want. It takes pressure off you as the instructor, and sets a good example for your students. Remember, you are always teaching others something about yourself. You can not NOT teach and you can not NOT learn. We are all teachers and students at the same time. OK... I'll get off my soapbox.
3. Bob is responding to questions related to safety accountability with very negative opinionated comments. He just can't seem to say anything positive and it's clear others are starting to get impatient with him. What do you do? It's not a question of if, but when. Someday you're going to get that negative student who doesn't want to be in training, doesn't like you, doesn't like the topic, doesn't like safety, or just otherwise is not happy. When you get students who answer all your questions with a negative tone and response, or worse yet, they interrupt you while teaching, there are some good techniques you can use to turn things around. I've used the "feel, felt, found" method described in the last section a few times and that worked well. The method I like the best is to ask others in the class what they think. Let the other students counter the negativity. Again, as a last resort, if the student just can't "straighten up," you may have to speak to them privately during the break.
OK, your turn. If you have time, and a good story explaining how you responded to similar situations in one of your classes, please send it to me and I'll include it on this page in the future. You'll be famous!
Now that you've conducted the training, it's time to wrap things up. Depending on the length of the training session, wrapping up can take as little as fifteen minutes or over an hour. Let's take a look at the steps to finish up the training.
* Source: Bruce Klatt, The Ultimate Training Workshop Handbook, McGraw-Hill Pub.
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