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Trainer QA

Practice Makes Perfect: Applying the Skills Personally for Professional Success with Master Trainer Odell Mitchell

Q. I am a new provisionally certified Crucial Conversations trainer. I was only able to train one course before the pandemic hit our organization and training plans were placed on hold. Until that changes, I would like to leverage the skills to add value to leadership as they navigate the challenges our organization faces. What advice can a VitalSmarts Master Trainer offer a new certified trainer in this position?

A. This is a great question. First, you are not alone. Many certified trainers are experiencing postponed training schedules. While waiting to resume training, they want to apply the skills within their organizations and assist leaders and employees. It seems we are all trying to swim upstream. Luckily, we have the Crucial Conversations skills on our side, and there are a few we can apply right away.

When I was preparing to become a VitalSmarts master trainer, I took every opportunity to apply the Crucial Conversations skills. This helped me become a better practitioner of the skills personally, which then strengthened my effectiveness professionally. Whether it was a political, social, business, or personal conversation, I used Start with Heart as the bedrock skill for my responses, followed by Master My Stories, which helped me be more kind and empathetic.

I found that the more I used the skills, the more I was able to see their impact, in both my personal and professional life. I began to realize that, in the past, I had been very conflict-averse because I lacked the skills to deal with conflict while honoring relationships. As I continue to apply the skills in everyday settings, I notice my entire demeanor is calmer, smarter, and more open-minded. And although I still do not like conflict, I now face it with much more confidence. The Crucial Conversations skills have enabled me to navigate challenging dialogue while honoring relationships, and that aligns with my core personal values. It’s still hard, but it is doable. And as I’ve applied the skills personally, my capacity to apply them professionally has also been strengthened.

I understand that as a newly certified trainer, you might feel unsure of how to help your organization. But by simply practicing the skills in your daily personal affairs, you will see a change in how you approach the professional challenges of your organization. Increasing your conviction and understanding of the skills, along with taking some strategic action within your organization, can help you contribute meaningfully.

Here are three skills that helped me make a difference for the organizations I have worked with.

  1. Make It Safe

Safety, to me, is everything in a difficult conversation. I want to feel safe, but, more importantly, I want my interlocutors to feel safe. In my experience, the more I focus on the safety of the other person, the more productive the conversation. It takes a tremendous amount of effort, but it is worth it, and it keeps problems from spiraling and causing further damage.

Our current circumstances have everyone grasping for safety, for certainty. Taking extra time and effort to ensure people feel safe goes a long way during a time when so many people, especially your leadership teams, are wrestling with unprecedented anxieties and concerns. Your ability to help create a safe environment for crucial moments to happen is of great value to your management teams. As you practice this skill in your personal life, you’ll improve your ability to perform as an expert when called upon professionally. You can present this skill as a foundation for communication between leadership and management and help set the tone for open dialogue.

  1. Contrasting

In order to keep others safe, they must know my motives. To understand my motives, they must have clarity. I am a strong proponent of contrasting to show clear intent where misunderstandings could otherwise lead to some detrimental stories. The level of uncertainty we are experiencing as a business community can lead to increased friction between levels of management. This is often felt by employees.

Share the skill of contrasting with your leaders. Let them know that being transparent with their motives can go a long way in fostering loyalty and trust with employees. 

  1. Who Does What by When and How Will We Follow Up?

Following up is a skill that is often missed, especially in a personal context. When a crucial conversation emerges with a close contact, we often navigate the conversation only to finish without closure or action. I’ve found that it’s easy to forget to follow up on our progress and hold one another accountable. Often there are emotions to process, and providing time and space for that ensures that the success of the conversation is lasting.

As a newly certified trainer, you can make suggestions to your leadership. Often in crucial moments, an action plan can get overlooked due to the urgency of dialogue. Practicing this skill in your personal life will help you apply it professionally. If there is no “next action,” then there is no way to hold one another accountable for the outcome. It is critical to the success of the entire conversation.

As a new trainer, you can definitely make an impact in your organization, even without a formal training on the calendar. In fact, your leadership teams need you to make suggestions and help lead them in their decisions during this difficult time. But they may not realize this until they see how much better they could be doing with the VitalSmarts skills.

So, to summarize, practice the skills personally, identify where you can apply them professionally, and then make suggestions that can help at this unique time in history. Do what you can until your next formal training opportunity. You will make a better case for the training by demonstrating the skills than by waiting for another scheduled training to show off what you know.

You’ve got this! 

Odell