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The Quick Fix - Interpersonal Skills Training

Aug 17, 2007
We live in speedy times

A call for good interpersonal skills development programmes

We have fast foods, fast cars, fast CD players, fast faxes, fast e-mail. We have instant coffee, instant lottery winners, instant weight loss, instant hair growth.

We expect things to happen ever more quickly and we have devised a raft of gadgets to facilitate that: mobile phones that can reach us whenever and wherever, answerphones to make sure we don't miss a trick and Internet webs for global immediacy.

We are bombarded with things to make us more accessible, to have easier communication flows, to save time. For business, that makes good sense, doesn't it? The quicker things happen, the more gets done, the less time is wasted in waiting. Push a button and it happens.

Too often, it doesn't quite work out that way. Instead of easing our working lives, the requirement for speed can become an intrusion and an obligation. We somehow, without realising it, become obsessed by the speed, rather than in control of its usefulness.

At Impact Factory we view The Quick Fix as anything we have around us that we think is going to make our lives better and easier and doesn't.

In our work in the business sector we see that many people are impatient for things to happen quickly and to happen exactly the way they want them to. There are pressures in the current economic climate that make it very easy to feel that things are no longer in our control. There is an underlying anxiety about good performance, with coming up with the goods and being on top of situations.

If people are operating on a knife edge, with the possibility of loss of business, or loss of income, or loss of status and all that goes with it, they are more likely to have their attention diverted away from solutions and onto the worry itself. The worry becomes the focus. Out of that, a 'let's fix the worry' attitude takes over, crisis management ensues and the real problem gets lost.

And that's when people begin to look for The Quick Fix: the one 'thing' that's going to provide the solution. The one training course, management consultant, book, video, programme, restructure or culture change that will make everything all right.

On a personal level, The Quick Fix can be alcohol, drugs, sex or food. These are substances or activities that seemingly provide relief from all that underlying anxiety and worry.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with quick fixes. They can be quite pleasant and can indeed take the pressure off for a time. Alcohol may feel very good going down, but it must always be remembered that very little really gets done when you're drunk and the hangover can be very depressing.

In the same way in business, there's nothing wrong with buying in courses that look as though they'll be able to transform a group of people into how you want them to be. There's nothing wrong with trying to find something that will motivate and mobilise staff to work better.

However, if you're looking for the one thing that will fix everything, then you're probably ripe to be seduced by something that promises a 'feel good factor'; something that will get your people's hopes up only to dash them (giving them a 'hangover').

A good crisis will have you feeling like you've done something, and pretty soon, having crises becomes the current Quick Fix.
Give your staff a couple of doses of Quick Fixes that don't end up shifting much of anything, and you can bet your bottom dollar you'll end up with an outbreak of cynicism and an ever increasing lack of trust.

The problem is, when things get hard, it really is tempting to try to fix it all in one go. The problems or issues took a long time developing, but a lot of people we meet do seem to lose patience in developing the solutions.

Indeed, there doesn't even have to be a problem as such, but there will still be a desire for staff to work more efficiently, get on better, be more motivated. And so solutions are sought that will make employees more effective. Nothing wrong with that, certainly. It's just that too often companies have a desire to make the solution instantaneous, along with the expectation that staff members are going to be transformed into some impossible ideal.

It's why gimmicks are so attractive. Here's the latest.

In these times of rapidly expanding use of technology in the workplace, we now hear of interpersonal skills training that can be done on-line, at your desk. Hard, for us as a professional personal development company, to imagine developing interpersonal skills without people to be interpersonal with. But there you go - a sign of the times.

If you think about it, this is a new take on sheep-dip training, where the sheep don't even have to leave the meadow!

So what's the advantage of the slow fix? To begin with, fix isn't the right term, because as far as we're concerned, there's nothing to fix. There are, however, things to develop. None of us emerges, fully formed, into adult life (much though we wish that happened). All of us take time to evolve, change a bit, stay static for a while, change a bit more, take on new things, reject some as well.

Yes, of course, occasionally someone experiences a spectacular, life-changing event and they may make a huge shift in their thinking, attitude, behaviour, and in the very way they live their life. But, that's not the norm.

The norm is that we develop interpersonal skills in little bits and pieces; in small turning points and choices; in getting a new job, breaking up with a partner, the death of a parent, having a child, getting a promotion, getting in touch with religion or spirituality, battling an illness, clinching a deal that's been in the pipeline for months. The stuff of our everyday lives.

You know, it's a bit like someone becoming an overnight success (to the rest of the world) after years of hard graft. You can't just have an interpersonal skills program where you learn good interpersonal skills by rote. Developing good interpersonal skills is something that's done over time: through success, mistakes, recovery, triumph, more mistakes, more recovery; indeed, the hard graft of living and communicating with others.

It isn't done in a day, it isn't done by shaking people's foundations, and it certainly isn't done by trying to change them in order to fix a problem ("If I put my entire marketing team through this super duper radical programme, then when they come out the other side our marketing problems will be solved and the company's downturn will reverse." Don't laugh! We've heard that and other similar statements from prospective clients).

Here's our take on the slow approach: real and lasting change comes from building and developing what's already there. That means respecting what people are, not wishing they were something else. It means understanding that there can never, ever be just one cause of a problem, and therefore, one solution.

If you're looking at professional personal development within a company, a real interpersonal skills development programme is something that is part of the fabric of an organisation, not something bolted on as an afterthought. It takes time to implement. It requires effort and commitment to make it work. It requires thought, planning and people's consultation to ensure buy-in.

Development programmes evolve; they can't stay the same because people don't. So any such programme also requires follow-up, assessment and review; things a Quick Fix just doesn't - can't - do because it's too speedy.

The Quick Fix puts unfair expectations on everyone concerned. Radical and gimmicky programmes with 'guaranteed results' rarely produce long-term changes. As a matter of fact, those guaranteed results are highly questionable, since they presume that all people are alike and will be affected by training in the same way.

You take the time - you will get results.

It takes a slow fix to make a significant difference: it's more like gardening and less like Miracle Gro.
About the Author
Jo Ellen and Robin run Impact Factory who provide Interpersonal Skills Training from Presentation Skills, Effective Communications and Team Building, through to Leadership Development and Executive Coaching for Individuals.
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