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Article - Changing Mindsets

January 2021 – In this article Fergus Mclarnon, Managing Director at RPfT discusses why (and how) we change mindsets here at RPfT. 

Why might we want to change mindsets?

  • To improve performance (by developing leadership or communication skills, for instance)
  • To address issues around wellbeing (by showing empathy and confidence building)
  • To adjust negative behaviours (such as tackling unconscious bias)

In such instances we might be talking about subtle behavioural changes in the way things are done, but sometimes we might also be seeking major shifts in thinking.

Why Practice, Not PowerPoint?

Changing behaviours doesn’t just happen. Our brains are not wired to break formed habits and adopt new behaviours quickly – even if we know we ought to. Anyone who has ever tried to go on a diet or follow a new health regime can testify to that. No matter how good and engaging the message is, forming new habit and learning to genuinely behave differently takes time and practice.

Real change occurs when the new action happens in a real-life situation. So, even many of the basic skills like listening, motivating, delegating, effective communication or showing empathy, need to be practiced over and over again. Each time we practice these skills in a new way, neurons in our brains start firing, creating a new neural pathway. The more we practice, the stronger the neural pathway becomes and the easier it is for us to do things differently and change the mindset we are stuck in.

Skills practice is at the core of the drama-based training we offer. In a more traditional training workshop (that does not include skills practice) the candidates will increase their knowledge, learn a model or two, have debates and possibly carry out a psychometric test. Maybe several key insights will be taught, and a number of new learning points might be added into the candidate’s leadership toolkit. But inevitably the learners will not be able to put all this new learning into action straight away. After two or three weeks, participants might well remember a little of what they learnt, but they may be unsure how to implement the ideas in real-life. This where drama-based training adds real value to the learning experience.

The Process of Starting to Change a Mindset

When training on any new skill is delivered to a group of candidates, a context helps to cement the learning.  Behavioural training becomes empowering when the learner understands why it is valuable to them and how they can apply it to the workplace. This is why we believe it is essential to put the newly introduced behaviours into practice right away, using real-world scenarios, in the training room. Through interactive practice and observation, we activate the new neural pathway and strengthen it immediately.

Whilst both knowledge building and application of new ways of working are equally important, we would suggest that time is much better spent on the application. At RPfT we tend to devote perhaps 80% to 90% of the workshop to that phase. This is simply because it is possible to revise the theoretic knowledge independently, but the opportunity for skills practice and feedback is more difficult outside of the training room.

Skills practice with our peers is a safe way to start, but it does not replace the real thing.  Working with a professional actor/facilitator brings the participant as close to reality as possible and can really help embed the new behaviours. To practice effectively, candidates need to try listening, watching, and contributing to a real-life scenario in the training session.

Often of course, real-world practice does not go as planned.  Inevitably, something goes wrong. Much like trying to ride a bike for the first time – you are going to fall off. With skills practice, this is fine, in fact it’s ideal. This is where a specifically trained actor/facilitator is essential. Participants can ‘fail’, but in a totally safe environment. Furthermore, with the support of the actor/facilitator, they can then reflect on what went wrong, what could be improved and what can be carried over to the next attempt. The actor/facilitator will provide the feedback needed for candidates to change and adjust their behaviours to be more successful next time.

Mindsets Can Be Changed (We do it all the time)

If the candidate group is committed to really learning and practicing new behaviours, then drama-based training is a process that really works. At the end of any session the group should reflect on what they may have to do to put the newly learnt behaviour into action. Often, candidates build a rapport within the group and during the session, which can be used to support each other in real life work situations, and when trying out the new behaviours.

Skills practice outside of the safety of the training room brings a whole new element to learning. It is no longer structured, it can occur suddenly, and without any time to prepare. It can take people right out of their comfort zone and throw them in at the deep end, where learning is most effective. In this way, the group can go forward supporting each other and carrying on their learning in their everyday work life.