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How to Prevent Your Behavioral Style and Learning Preferences from Sabotaging Your Training

President Of TrainSmart, Inc.

The young advertising employee asked the seasoned executive for advice. She was struggling with negative feedback on her creative effort. The executive responded, saying, “15% of the public will dislike your work no matter how great it is. Guaranteed. Every Time.”

Years later the young employee told me the story. It had a profound effect on my career. It was like something toggled my brain. Until then, I believed success was dependent on everyone loving my work.   Learning that I should set the bar at 85%-not 100%- altered my view of my work.  Counterintuitively, it made me more receptive to criticism.  Instead of becoming defensive when someone didn’t agree, I became curious.

This one little nugget of truth has made me a better facilitator/trainer, and definitely a better team member.

Imagine going into a training situation where you don’t know the participants. When you have a mindset that 15% of the group may not respond well to you or the material, you prepare differently. You prepare for potential conflict.

Figuring out the 15% is easier than you might think. The good news –You don’t need a crystal ball. You just need to know their behavior style. There is a multitude of personality/behavior assessments available– everything from DiSC Personality Assessment to the Birkman Method to True Colors.  When you gain a deep understanding of these assessments you can often make a strong guess about someone’s style, without having access to an actual report.

This knowledge of different personality styles has saved me from me on many occasions. The most memorable was when I was teaching a module on DiSC. As part of a module, I needed to hand out DiSC buttons to all the participants. Previously, we set the buttons next to the lunch vouchers and asked the participants to take their button(s) on their way to lunch.

On this particular day, I decided to change things up. You know, just to have fun.  I took the four containers with the various buttons (D, i, S, C) and handed them out to different tables. I then instructed them to pass the container around the table. After everyone had a chance to take a button they were instructed to pass the container over to the next table.

Needless to say, it was a bit chaotic. People were laughing. Others were searching for the container with their “letter.” And, some couldn’t help themselves, they started organizing the route of the letter containers.

During the debrief I was not surprised to hear that several participants found the exercise extremely annoying. This was a critical moment.  If I had responded to their criticism by explaining it was just a spur of the moment idea, I risked creating an impression that I was not a logical thinker.  And, the rest of the workshop could have been a disaster.

Instead, I used the situation to explain the importance of knowing your audience and their behavior styles.

What started out as a whim, is now one of my favorite exercises to demonstrate how different behavioral styles react to the same situation.  As a facilitator, knowing that my own behavior style tendencies might not be welcomed by analytical learners is extremely helpful. It motivates me to balance activities to make sure there is something for everyone in the way I present and debrief the material.

So what does that mean for you? It means to always have a Plan B. Take research. Your analytical participants will want to know the methodology behind the findings. They will want as many details as you can provide. Your “feelings- driven” participants usually accept the data on face value. Going deeper into the research with this group will often be viewed as TMI.

One of the fastest ways to get a sense of the group’s behavior styles is to ask a question. Certain behavior styles will be fast to respond. However, there are times when you throw out a question or ask for an opinion and what you get in return is silence.

Few things can throw off a trainer’s rhythm like asking a question to the entire group and having no one answer. While there are many benefits to “big group” conversations, trying to force it, can be a disaster in the making.

This is where knowing behavior styles comes in handy. When a group does not volunteer to share go to your Plan B. One of my favorite Plan B’s is to have the participants start the conversation with a partner. After a few minutes, ask two sets of partners to create a new team of four participants. After a few minutes combine groups again so there are eight people in each group.  After a few minutes ask for a spokesperson to share their group’s key findings.

Think of this as the “putting your toe in the ocean approach” to group conversations.  While there are some people who run into the ocean, there are many others who first stick their toe in. Once their toes are comfortable, they walk up to their waist. Eventually, they are in the same place as the people who ran into the ocean. It just takes them a bit longer to take the plunge.

This incremental group activity does the same thing as putting your toe in the ocean. It allows participants to become comfortable in the environment.

Usually, after doing this incremental conversation a couple of times, participants are comfortable enough to take part in a whole group conversation.

The key is to understand your audience and be flexible enough to adjust your approach to meet their needs.

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