Most people can’t communicate at all. Often it seems that people are sharing a space, simply waiting for their turn to talk. We aren’t listening and we aren’t paying attention to the environment around us. Peter Drucker is quoted as saying, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” But how do we learn to hear what isn’t said? Practice is a great way to learn how to converse effectively, but not all practice is created equal. People have a natural tendency to avoid confrontation, so we avoid the situations where we could learn. In addition, when overwhelmed by a situation, it is difficult to process what happened and actually learn how to communicate better. In order to develop expertise in communication; practice must involve:
- Understanding the situation and context,
- Empathizing with the perspective of the other people in the conversation, and
- Reflecting on outcomes, and
- Repeating the experience in different scenarios.
Understanding: There are many cues in the environment that can help a person develop situation awareness. Developing situation awareness is very important for determining a communication strategy. A few examples are noise level, body language, other people in the room, and time of day. Depending on what your personal goal is, different aspects of the situation will be significant. Developing an understanding of how the environment will help or hinder with accomplishing your goals is significant when considering how to communicate with another person.
Empathizing: Getting a handle on the perspective of another person, especially when you have never been in that person’s shoes, is a challenge. Often we learn to empathize when a person gets angry or frustrated and tells you in a forceful way what their perspective is. This is a hard way to learn, but often an effective technique. Learning by failure is how we most often build expertise, but understanding another person’s goals is as important as understanding your own goals.
Reflecting: Looking back at a situation and assessing what went wrong and what went well is a proven way to learn. Often opportunities for reflection are difficult because it is difficult to know what went wrong. If you happen to have a mentor observing you, the mentor can help to analyze the situation and provide the wisdom of his experience. In real life, reflection is often left up to speculation which can be tested in future conversations.
Repeating: We need a lot of practice to develop new habits in communication. Going through one scenario isn’t enough. Being able to go through as many scenarios as possible with different situations, different personas, different problems and opportunities is an effective approach to building the cognition we call expertise. An expert will have years and years of stories built up that can be used as a basis for training.
Virtual simulation is an effective educational technology that covers these four points for communication training. Virtual simulation is being used more widely because it can be used anywhere, doesn’t require teams of instructors to execute the training, and allows the trainee to fail without any vocational risk. There are challenges with virtual simulation. For instance, is the context rich enough to develop situation awareness? Is the body language of the avatar realistic enough to learn? How do you support the trainee with reflection when an instructor isn’t present? Can you afford to build enough scenarios to get coverage of the training domain? With recent advances in virtual simulation technology, these hurdles can be addressed and result in habit changing training.
Thanks for reading. Please share with colleagues who might find value. This post was authored by Discovery Machine, creators of The RESITE Suite. RESITE enables instructors to capture their expertise to create their own realistic training scenarios. RESITE places trainees into an immersive 3D environment that helps them learn faster and see the cause/effect relationship of their decisions and hands-on interaction in real time. With over 16 years in the industry Discovery Machine delivers powerful, proven technology with a friendly, accessible front-end that translates to successful training programs empowered with intelligent interaction. For more information about The RESITE Suite, please visit Discovery Machine online or call 570-601-3226.