How to help learners succeed when the going gets tough
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How to help learners succeed when the going gets tough

Most workplace training is aimed at providing knowledge and skills. But everyone knows that knowledge and skills aren’t enough.

Often the most critical factor in success is whether someone has the drive, persistence and resilience to persevere under tough conditions.

Without those qualities – what some researchers call “hardiness” – knowledge and skill make little difference.

But can you really train people to be hardy?

The research
A study from West Point looked at what makes people successful under stressful conditions. It studied cadets going through the Academy’s intensive summer training program.

The most successful cadets demonstrated three key qualities, which the researchers called the “3 C’s” of hardiness:

  • Commitment. Hardy cadets remained engaged in the face of hardships. They considered themselves “all in.”
  • Control. They kept trying to influence events, because they believed they could exert control over the ultimate results.
  • Challenges. Hardy cadets saw hardships as opportunities to grow, not threats to be avoided.

Other studies suggest that these qualities can be learned. In one study, leaders in high-stress jobs were trained on the 3 C’s, and later reported lower stress levels than a control group that hadn’t received the training.

Another study concluded that social expectations have a big impact on hardiness: People become tougher if they’re in an environment where toughness is expected.

Implications for training
You can build the three C’s into your training, which could be especially useful when the going gets tough for learners.

Let’s take an example of a sales team feeling overwhelmed by the difficulty of moving from product-based sales to relationship selling. They’re outside their comfort zone and starting to go wobbly. Here are some steps to get training back on track:

1. Renew commitment. Remotivate learners by emphasizing the meaningfulness of the training.

One technique when commitment flags: Get learners refocused on the end result. Ask them to imagine they’ve already learned the new skill and how it feels: “Customers will call me when they have questions. I won’t feel like I’m always chasing them.”

2. Refocus on what they can control. “What if I do all this stuff and the buyer just wants a low price?” the learner asks. “You can’t control the buyer’s response,” you say. “Let’s just work on what you say and do.”

3. Reframe difficulties as opportunities. “Sure, this stuff is hard,” you might tell trainees. “That’s why your competitors aren’t going to do it.”

Sources: Maddi, S., Kahn, S., & Maddi, K. (1998). The effectiveness of hardiness training. Consulting Psychology Journal, 50(2), 78-86.
Bartone, P., Barry CL, Armstrong RE, (2009). To build resilience: Leader influence on mental hardiness,” Defense Horizons, no. 69.

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