You can take your Resilience and shove it!

Or how small things can radically alter training outcomes.

I am often amazed by how what seem like quite small things to us can be absolute deal breakers when it comes to student outcomes in training programs.  Let me give you an example we use the word Resilience, in a lot of our training and workshops, because well a lot of the work that we do is about or with people in crisis and how to assist them while at the same time looking after yourself appropriately.  This could be in the context of mental health, suicide, natural disasters anything really and up until recently the word resilience has never caused us any issues, or adversely effected the outcomes of training.  While working a group of people recently the word resilience and what it meant became a bit of a focal point and as a result we have altered a range of our training programs in response.

So what was the problem?  The problem was that this group and now several others has seen the word resilience as a cop-out, a way of saying, we are not going to actually do anything to help you because we you are ‘resilient’ enough to help yourselves.  The groups had heard the word so often and in so many context where it resulted in no assistance for them, that they had attached a very negative connotation to the word.  So much so in fact that a number of people who would have come to and greatly benefited from the workshop didn’t attend because the work resilience was used in the flyers and promotional materials.

This has really got me wondering though.  How often, despite our best efforts do the words we use in our promotional materials and our training and workshops, have a very different meaning for other, than they do for us and is there any way for us deal with this.  I am not suggesting that we should try and craft the universal, inoffensive language for training, because usually where I have seen attempts at this (read most things written with extreme political correctness) the meaning and importance is lost and I think even less people end up being engaged.  What I am suggesting though is that I think this happens more often than we think, it is just that most of the time people dont say anything at least not publicly, they just say to themselves and their friends, ‘Ah they just banged on about resilience again, same as the last lot,’ and they and their friends and acquaintances never come back.

I would be really interested in hearing if anyone else has had a similar experience.  it would also be great to hear any ideas that people have about how they got over this type of thing.


About pauldrasmussen
Paul Rasmussen is one of Australia’s most widely read Vocational Education and Training Commentators. He provides deep, unbiased analysis and insights not only on topical issues, but also on the underlying structure and policy which supports the industry. His writing and analysis has been praised for its uncompromising and thought provoking style and its ability to focus on the issues of real importance to the sector. He has advised various government departments and ministers, training providers, public and private organisations, not for profits and small to medium enterprises on the VET sector and the issues and opportunities facing it. He is one of Australia’s most awarded learning professionals and a regular speaker at a range of conventions and forums. His extensive experience in vocational education, and learning and development coupled with formal qualifications in philosophy, ethics, business and education management allow Paul to provide a unique view of the road ahead and how to navigate it.

5 Responses to You can take your Resilience and shove it!

  1. Sergei Serbin says:

    Good point that lead us trainers to think how EMPATHETIC we are when delivering training sessions to ensure we treat our learners as individuals. In other words we will probably have to rethink and redesign training sessions in such a manner that they become a 1to1 delivery.

  2. Leo Salazar says:

    HR people are notoriously poor marketers. This especially applies to OD, L&D, and training specialists. Which I find quite ironic, considering an essential part of any development professional’s function is being able to communicate with people in an effective way.

    “Communication? – I thought he said ‘marketing’,” you might be thinking. I did, but learning to communicate effectively with your target group (i.e. getting your target group to adopt your message and, ultimately, your product or service) is the most challenging part of marketing. Knowing what speaks to them, what they’ll understand, and how to help them translate what you’re telling them into actively adapting their own behavior, it helps me to think of it as marketing. I come back to my favorite saying, “You can buy in any language, but you can only sell in the language of your client.” Participants in training programs are your target group; training them is a form of selling: getting them to actively adapt their own behavior.

    Yet, despite this, most learning professionals still persist in communicating training concepts with lay people as if we’re communicating with fellow professionals. “Inclusivity”, “70-20-10”, “chunking”, “learning styles and cycles” and, yes, “resilience” are terms that are very familiar among us professionals. It’s our jargon. But to those not involved with HR or training? Not so much.

    A quick story: I’m a native English speaker, born and raised in Los Angeles, US. But I’ve lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1992. Languages don’t come easily to me, so it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve begun using the local language, Dutch, also professionally (I’ve been speaking it at home for some time now). I participated recently in a strategy exercise for a client, in which a group of external consultants, not specialized in OD or training, interviewed, in Dutch, a number of key people for the client, including me. During their final presentation they posted a large number of anonymous comments from these key people they’d interviewed in order to support their findings. I was shocked to see that nearly all of the comments were mine! I asked the consultants in private afterwards why this was, why were my comments virtually the only ones shown? “You were the only one of the interviewees we could understand! The level of your Dutch is simple and accessible enough that we knew exactly what you were talking about. The rest came to us with these complex terms and concepts — we had no clue what they were saying!”

    At the end of your post, Paul, you ask how to more effectively communicate with our target group. Again, I come back to my favorite slogan: use their language. As learning facilitators we have an obligation to make sure that the participants in our courses are learning, which means communicating with them in a manner that is easily translatable to their own situations and results in individual behavioral change.

    In other words: add marketing to your skill set as an HR and learning professional.

    • Derek B says:

      Hello Leo,
      Thank you for sharing the story which is humorous but reinforces the point that the use of jargon of the training/assessing/HR fields interspersed with the jargon that is peculiar to one’s job/profession does make for a great degree of incomprehensibility when listened to by an “outsider”.
      I have not experienced a single word evoking the response Paul has had but am very aware when undertaking initial training of persons wishing to become trainers and assessors to use the minimum of jargon.

  3. Graham Cook says:

    I think in this case I would really have explored understanding of the word resilience and not just let the group maintain their negative connotation. Resilience is important in some situations and it’s important for people to explore when too much resilience is a negative, we developed a set of images to really focus on and explore conversations around resilience. You can find more details here :

  4. Eric Livingston says:

    People’s responses are interesting when you say something that challenges their beliefs or values such as saying someone is resilient because of where they are and the life they live when really they may not be feeling it. It also happens when discussing language around suicide. Trying to reframe a persons view from a negative stand point to an accepting one is a tricky path to walk.

    What I find works (as best I can tell), is not dealing with it there and then (unless confronted directly), but more so making note of individuals body language and raising the topic a little later when still relevant and making a global statement such as:
    “Earlier when we were talking about resilience I noticed there was a general lull in the room (as an example)”and continue on the topic as appropriate.

    The upshot of this approach is not antagonising the participant who is challenged by the topic and giving them further scope to process the content of the topic. If someone feels to challenged directly they can be lost.

    I like to keep my participants:-)

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