Practice: A Necessary Part of Change

© 2002 Johanna Rothman. This article was originally publishedby Cutter, February 2002.

You’ve decided that now is a good time to improve everyone’s skills with a little training. Maybe you’re planning some changes, or maybe you’re using training as a technique to avoid having to hire more people, and to help retain your best people.

If you’re planning changes, you know that training by itself isn’t enough. You know that practicing the learned skills helps people apply the training, and helps facilitate the actual changes in your organization. After all, if you’re planning a change, you’re not doing it just because you like change, but because you perceive a competitive advantage to the change.

I recently taught a communications skills workshop to managers. These managers voluntarily enrolled, and seemed quite interested to learn about new skills. Part of the workshop was practice, learning how to use the new skills. However, the managers, although fascinated and participative during the discussion part of the workshop, didn’t want to practice the new skills during the course.

I was surprised. Why wouldn’t people want to practice new skills? After all, we’re not generally good at things we don’t know how to do, or haven’t practiced. What made these managers think they could learn a new skill without practicing it?

I’ve seen this attitude among other people in my workshops. Many people want to learn about new ideas, new skills, but don’t want to practice them in a non-work environment. Many people say they want to reduce the class-time so that they can go back to work and apply the skills there. But, applying the skills in a non-work environment is safe, or at least, safer than at work. So, why wouldn’t these people try to practice these new skills?

There are probably as many reasons to avoid practice, as there are people. However, here are some common reasons:

People may be afraid that they won’t be able to be as competent with the new skills as they would like to be, even in class, in front of people they don’t know. For some people, practicing a new skill with strangers doesn’t feel safe enough.

People may not be sure that they can duplicate the trainer’s results with the skills. Maybe, if they try to work this way, they won’t be able to duplicate what the trainer can do.

People may not be sure they want the results these skills generate. Even during desired training, people may still be considering whether they want to incorporate these new skills into their repertoires. If they haven’t already decided they want tochange, they resist the practice, to avoid the change.

Dale Emery, in his article, Resolving Resistance on www.dhemery.com, claims that there are three general strategies for resolving differences in expectations, here, my expectations that a person would practiced during training, and an attendee’s expectation that they don’t have to practice to learn:

  1. Adjust the change to fit the person's expectations.
  2. Adjust the person's expectations to support the change.
  3. Adjust your own expectations about the change.

In a one or two-day workshop, I can’t always adjust the change or adjust the person’s expectations to support the change, but I can always adjust my own expectations about the change.

So, even though I don’t understand why people don’t always want to practice, I can accept that they don’t. As much as I would like my students to practice a change, I can’t make them practice. However, if you want to learn a new skill, or make a change in an organization, you have to practice it.

You can improve communication skills, or any other skills with practice. If you have a chance to practice a potential change with other out-of-your company people, take it. You’ll learn more and you’ll have fun. And, you’ll learn enough to know how to change, if you choose to.

Like this article? See the other articles. Or, look at my workshops, so you can see how to use advice like this where you work.

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