Communicate

Five classic signs your training lacks empathy

Stepping into someone else’s shoes to see things from their perspective can have maximum impact in both personal and professional situations. We have discussed empathetic learning design, and how to teach empathy, but how do you know if your learning initiatives need an empathy makeover? Below are some signs your training lacks empathy. If you’re noticing these, you may be in need of an empathetic learning approach to take your organization to the next level.

1. Your actual learner population isn’t reflected in the course visuals. 

If your staff comprises more than one gender, culture, or background, yet all of the visuals represent a single category, you may need to change things up. Corporate training frequently makes heavy use of stock photos, which isn’t necessarily a problem. It’s when those images lack diversity that the whole program can come across as generic and not applicable to individual learners. Your course visuals should represent the learner population in all its diversity. If they don’t, learners will have a harder time picturing themselves in the scenarios, and may even feel excluded and undervalued. 

Ideas for representing your learners in course visuals

There are a few ways to take a more inclusive approach with your visuals. First, if you’re going to use stock photos, choose images that represent the learner population. Sites like iStock and Shutterstock have come a long way in offering photos of people in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Even royalty-free stock photo sites offer cultural diversity that has come a long way over the past few years. Alternatively, consider using photos of actual employees in your company. Although it’ll require more effort to shoot or collect photos, the payoff of learners seeing themselves represented will make the work worthwhile.

Another work-around is to avoid using photorealistic visuals at all. There are many other visual art styles that can be effective without looking cartoonish. Sometimes it can be an effective design technique to help learners step away from interpersonal situations by representing them in an entirely different way. Even colors, animals, and textures can add visual interest while side-stepping the need for photos of people. Alternate images can also help learners through situations that have no clear answer by eliminating the bias that many images with humans can represent.

2. Difficult interpersonal situations are treated as having clear-cut answers.

When conducting training that involves challenging situations between people or teams, evaluate whether clear-cut answers are truly representative of the real-world situation. In most cases, navigating situations that require emotional intelligence can’t be boiled down to right vs. wrong. The gray area is what leads learners into thoughtful conversations, discussions of ideas, feelings, and perspectives. If you remove the gray area and limit learners to a right or wrong answer, you will have missed the opportunity to develop empathy. 

How to embrace the gray in learning simulations

It is possible to design training that encourages exploration of topics without a hard right or wrong answer. Traditionally these types of initiatives took place in classroom workshops, or may have required a high-end gamified scenario. New learning modalities adapted to the hybrid workforce are enabling companies to provide safe environments for teams to grapple with complex problems. That need is exactly what led to the development of our ExperienceBUILDER platform. In brief, we create space for learners to assess non-absolute questions by creating multiple scoring parameters for each decision. The real magic happens as teams interact to solve these problems together, competing against other teams using metrics that reflect real-world constraints.

3. You aren’t using accessible design principles.

Organizations need to understand accessible design principles, not only for their customers’ needs but also for their employees. Just like your customers, learners also need to have content that is accessible. If you’re avoiding these design principles for your learners, you could be completely excluding certain individuals or making it harder for them to learn. 

Having empathy toward learners means ensuring that everyone is equally included, regardless of any disabilities. Imagine if you were color blind, and your training was designed in colors that make it impossible for you to see. Chances are you would feel discouraged and would struggle to fully immerse yourself in the learning. Meeting learners where they are increases buy-in, leading to higher adoption and enhanced learning rates.

How to design online training with accessibility in mind

This is a huge topic of ongoing importance for all of us, and too much to address here in a brief blog post. There are many resources online that can help you navigate the basics of accessible design. Two we recommend are Sheryl Burgstahler’s 20 Tips for Teaching an Accessible Online Course and 10 Tips for Creating Accessible Course Content from Iowa State. To continue to exercise empathy in this area, evaluate the needs of the people in your learning audience. Are there specific concerns or needs that require more than the most basic accommodations? To get started exploring this area of the workforce, talk with your partners in HR.

4. People aren’t given adequate support to grapple with complex problems and implement changes back on the job

If you’ve launched a training program and expect to see results on day one, you may want to reevaluate your expectations. In order to help learners make improvements and implement desired change back into their jobs, you must give them grace, encouragement, and provide ongoing support. Learners will then feel comfortable implementing what they have learned where they see fit and when they feel it is right.

Build post-event support right into the training

What this looks like will really depend on the topic of the training itself. For example, many leadership development initiatives are now paired with ongoing coaching and mentorship programs. In other cases, a follow-up training event is appropriate. Considering what learners need after they’ve completed the initial program will go a long way toward adoption and overall impact.

5. You’ve assumed you understand what people need but have missed the mark

This is oftentimes one of the greatest challenges facing a leader. You may feel as though you know what people need, how they feel, or what will help them, but in reality you don’t see the whole picture. Lack of empathy and emotional intelligence can lead to missing the mark in all sorts of scenarios, and it’s particularly important for us to be aware of as learning leaders. We’ve all dealt with the classic challenge of being asked to build training for something that is actually a process or management problem; assuming you know exactly what learners need in a complex situation is the other side of the same coin.

How to overcome bias when assessing training need

There are many ways to get to the root of a need or problem when designing training; what they all boil down to is getting outside of your own perspective (i.e., showing empathy for the learner’s perspective). An empathy map is one helpful tool for working through the questions from the perspective of the learner. We also use a process called the Voice of the Business to bring in disparate perspectives. You may know what the organization needs as a whole, but your learners quite possibly know what is needed at their level better than you. Take the time to ask questions, offer anonymous questionnaires, and practice active listening. 

It’s important to develop empathetic learning practices, and also to help your learners develop empathy as a key skill for emotional intelligence. Nobody overtly tries to create training that lacks empathy, which is why it’s so important to look out for the signs. If you’re guilty of any of the above-mentioned items and unsure of the way forward, reach out to us. We can create a plan customized for your business needs that will help to incorporate empathy into the organization. 

Teaching empathy at work requires an environment of self-discovery

While we are born with a capacity for empathy, developing this soft skill takes time and is influenced by those around us. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, seeing a problem or situation from outside of your own point of view. When we feel empathetic toward someone else’s problem or circumstances, we’re able to be compassionate, which is crucial for developing relationships. Without empathy, relationships will fail to thrive, both personal and professional. A Center for Creative Leadership study found that empathetic leaders are “viewed as better performers in their jobs by their bosses.” 

Teaching empathy at work has become a particularly urgent task for learning leaders across the spectrum of industries. We can do so with direct techniques designed to help learners take a more compassionate approach to interpersonal situations. We also have an opportunity to influence the overall culture by designing empathy into the learning experiences we create.

Can empathy at work be taught effectively?

We’re all familiar with lackluster training experiences that beat learners over the head with orders to embrace diversity and be kind. While these may have marginal success at changing behavior in specific situations, they’re rarely effective at building true empathy between all members of a team because they don’t dig deep into personal biases. While it’s true that old habits die hard and personal change requires deep commitment, it is possible to create a program that builds an overall empathetic mindset in learners. Doing so requires a more nuanced approach that allows people to get deep into complex situations without straightforward solutions.

Empathy at work can be taught effectively if it’s approached in a way that invites robust dialog and enables learners to see past their existing beliefs. We all have biases, which developed over many years via our personal experiences, the media, and the people with whom we surround ourselves. Biases can negatively impact our ability to empathize. The most powerful antidote for bias is to see a situation from someone else’s point of view. Being aware of how others may view situations, actively listening to teammates, and engaging in conversation with people from diverse backgrounds can aid in developing empathy, inclusivity, and understanding in the workplace. In a training simulation, we can create an environment that enables learners to overcome their biases. Because biases are often deeply rooted, an effective training simulation must invite self-discovery, in which learners are provided with a safe environment to uncover and work through their biases (rather than didactic instruction on what they should do).

ExperienceBUILDERTM simulations foster empathy by putting learners into situations where there is no clear right or wrong answer (much like the problems learners are working through daily on the job). In an ExperienceBUILDER simulation, teams collaborate to find a solution that will impact a range of metrics, such as overall productivity, profitability, employee engagement, team health, and progress toward a goal. The team receives real-time feedback as their score meters change, and they must balance business needs with other priorities. Just like real-life situations, that balance is key. Sometimes one meter may go up while others go down. Working together as a team enables all learners to talk through the options, balance the pros and cons, and find a solution that checks as many possible positive boxes with minimal sacrifice. In the process, they can see how biases are affecting overall performance, and perhaps even begin to unravel their own closely held beliefs.

Why is empathy important in the workplace?

Studies support the business value of empathy and emotional intelligence. For example, healthcare professionals who show empathy toward their patients tend to see the patients adhere better to their treatments, thus resulting in better health outcomes. Empathy involves listening, understanding the emotions of another person, and responding accordingly. While many workplaces have long struggled with a lack of empathy, the events of the past two years have shone a spotlight on how critical empathy is to productive collaboration and business success. In a world of shifting work environments, labor shortages, and ever-changing business needs, leaders and contributors at all levels must be able to empathize with their colleagues in order to be successful. 

Training people to be more empathetic is possible with an immersive, discovery-based approach. ExperienceBUILDER simulations can help to guide individuals into meaningful conversations, solve complex interpersonal situations, uncover biases and judgment, and improve inclusion efforts for a diverse workforce. Ready to learn more? Contact us to schedule a consultation.

Mapping It Out: Helping Employees See the Big Picture

As a leader, it’s a good bet that you understand the power of showing vs. telling when it comes to communicating complex messages to your employees.

CommunicatingCommunicating important information verbally or in writing can be confusing and leaves the door wide open for interpretation. The mind’s eye is often quick to interpret what it understands the message to be – right, wrong or somewhere in-between. And once employees start talking, misinformation can spread like wildfire.

So how do you take the reins and ensure all of your employees receive, understand and see their role in your organization’s most important messages? You use a Blueline Simulations Journey Map.

Our Journey Maps use visuals, narratives and metaphors to engage employees in a highly participative way. They’re a proven, powerful tool for:

  • Providing an easy-to-grasp overview of robust and complex messages
  • Creating a narrative around organizational issues that allows readers to instantly see their role in the big picture
  • Engaging readers at both a rational and an emotional level – so they don’t just understand the urgency, but they actually feel it

A Journey Map Explained

A Journey Map is a small graphic, rich in both quantitative and metaphorical/narrative data. The standard tabloid-size 11×17 document is meant for “individual consumption” and is not to be confused with our Blueline Blueprint.

Communicating

In addition to being “visual,” the Journey Map also is “narrative,” meaning that it enables readers to not only connect with individual messages, but also to better understand those messages in the context of how they relate to one another while improving communicating with one another.

One of our clients successfully used a Journey Map to rebuild its employee onboarding process. The grand story about possibility, change, a shared vision and aspirations of the new hire – a story typically told in a series of lifeless bullet points – all came together in an efficient, effective, powerful story.

The Journey Map connected all the dots: New hires were able to quickly “find themselves” in the visual, while organizational leaders placed their progress in the context of a broader goal. This solution contributed to a best-in-class onboarding solution that is now regarded as one of the best in the country.

Similarly, another client was introducing culture change with dramatic implications for how associates interacted with customers. By presenting the change in narrative format, associates were able to reflect on their own roles within the initiative and recognize how their goals were aligned with the goals of the organization. The reaction was a stark contrast to the “defensive” response leaders were expecting.

Time and again, our clients are amazed at how their complex messages can be rendered with clarity and emotional engagement in a simple graphical approach. We welcome the opportunity to amaze you, too. In addition to Journey Maps, we also have ideas for couching your message in a narrative context for employee handbooks, investor communications and more.

Contact us today!

Sometimes Training Isn’t the Answer (Part 2)

You’ll recall that in my last post I shared the thought process that we go through when helping clients to determine the root cause of their challenge and therefore the most impactful solution. In this scenario, our pharmaceutical client needed to jumpstart the use of a new product planning process that they had recently updated and streamlined. They also wanted to reassure teams that leadership was committed to the use of the process and that they saw it as critical to the organization’s focus on impacting patient lives.

Rather than update the current training, together with the client we decided to develop two high impact communication pieces. The first, a telestration served as the ideal medium for communicating leadership’s commitment to the new product planning process, while simultaneously striking a powerful emotional chord by demonstrating the likely impact the new process would have on patient lives. As an added bonus, it provided a platform for introducing two new analysis elements that would be needed to complete the new process templates.

This unique approach enabled us to communicate all of this in a very engaging and visually stimulating way in just a few minutes – which drove high levels of viewership and, as a side benefit, meant it could serve as a refresher in planning discussions.

The second piece we developed was a powerful Blueline infographic that served to refresh the target audience on the overall process and then became a JIT ready reference job aide. This engaging, one-page visual graphically displayed key inputs, process steps and decisions-points.

Sample inforgraphic from Blueline

By sharing graphic elements between the telestration and the infographic we were able to drive adoption through consistent branding while keeping costs down. Want to learn more? Want to explore the power of a Blueline training and/or communications solution? Write to me or give us a call today.

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We have combined this easily adapted sales model with the most effective interpersonal skills-building technology ever designed to produce an unrivaled sales skills training system now available for delivery via ILT, VILT and as online performance support.

Would you like to learn more or to take a free test drive of the simulation? Visit PEOPLESIM™: Supportive Selling Skills or schedule an appointment with Blueline today.