Magazine article Training & Development

Personality Conflicts

Magazine article Training & Development

Personality Conflicts

Article excerpt

Every day, trainers face a mix of personalities in the classroom. Knowing how to detect conflicts early is essential to creating a conducive environment to proper training. But it isn't easy. Many trainers have no way of knowing the backgrounds and histories of participants.

The first step to heading off conflict is understanding it. Conflict tends to arise in four different contexts in a training class:

* supervisor/employee tandem * trainee interaction during a break or lunch * group work in classroom exercises * trainer/trainee conflicts.

We'll look at each conflict separately, going over the problem, an example, and a possible solution.

Supervisor/employee tandem. Sometimes, a supervisor will decide to accompany an employee or a group of employees to a class or seminar. The goal may be not to check up on the employee, but to learn what the employee needs to know to perform job tasks.

In many cases, the situation does not cause problems. A lot of people get along well with their supervisors or employees. But in other cases, a supervisor's presence can cause anxiety for everyone involved. When that happens, the employee and supervisor may gain little from the training and may even disrupt the learning of other trainees.

When a supervisor/employee tandem attends a class, the employee may hesitate to ask questions or participate in the class work for fear of looking stupid or uneducated in front of the supervisor. The supervisor may have the same problem, not wanting to look stupid in front of his or her employee.

In some cases, the supervisor is likely to dominate class activities.

If the class includes two or more employees and their supervisor, the employees may "gang up" on the supervisor, trying to show the supervisor's weaknesses to the rest of the class. The obvious fix is to separate the participants so that they are not working together during class time.

That is fine for "hands-on" exercises, but it does not resolve the problem of open classroom discussion or reviews of tests and exercises.

The trainer should start with a basic realization: Real conflict between two people can take years to develop. A trainer cannot overcome it in one session. So don't try to. Instead, work with the conflict rather than around it or through it. Use the conflict, or even hostility, to your advantage.

For example, if neither the employee nor the supervisor is participating in class, "volunteer" one of them to help you demonstrate a method or idea. After the demonstration, ask what he or she did, observed, or noticed during the exercise.

If you ask the employee first and he or she is reluctant to answer, fire the same question at the supervisor. Then ask someone else in the class. See if you can open up the discussion without pointing an accusing finger at the "culprits" who are refusing to take part. Channel the reluctance into classroom productivity.

In a class I once taught, a supervisor and employee didn't want to walk up to the device I was demonstrating in the front of the room. They wouldn't even leave their seats. I kidded them, laughed at them, told them I really meant it, and said it was in their best interests to participate in the class. They weren't hostile; they just refused. They stared at me as if I were talking to the people behind them.

I, now had a situation on my hands. If I had let it go, I might have lost my credibility in handling classroom situations. If I had pushed it, I could have gotten into real trouble with my own boss. My students are our only customers; it is not good public relations to annoy a customer.

I did the only thing I could think of at the moment: I disassembled the unit, piece by piece, and laid each part on their desks. As I did, I explained the procedure to the class. Then I told the rest of the class to take a break while the tandem put the unit back together.

The rest of us left the room for 15 minutes. …

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