Case Study: Moving into the Director’s Position

The following case study describes an example of one kind of training request we received at Voice to Word.  While not the most common situation,  it gives an idea of the variety of contexts and needs we might deal with.

BACKGROUND

Case study-Construction managersIn early 2012, late one Friday afternoon, we received a call with an urgent request for on-site training. We had one week to prepare the employee for a very critical interview. The only information we received was that the employee was “a little rough around the edges!”

The employee we were to work with was an engineer, originally from Lebanon. He had been working as a Construction Site Manager for many years and had recently been promoted to Director. He had been proposed by the company to direct a multi-million dollar site upgrade for an American company. The company we work with had secured the contract but the American counterpart had already rejected two proposed directors, making our trainee the third.

OBSERVATIONS

Upon meeting the trainee, it quickly became clear that he was an intelligent and capable person who was very convincing with his words. The problem was body language; he acted like a construction worker which detracted from what he said.

A second concern was his attitude towards women. The director of the contracting company was a woman and he had heard that she was “tough.” He wasn’t sure how to deal with her and wanted to treat her differently than he would normally treat a male director.

Both these concerns were related to his native culture – one that is much more emotionally and physically expressive than the Canadian culture, and one with different attitudes and behaviours towards women. So the approach we took was two-pronged – developing awareness of behaviours and beliefs, while understanding cultural differences related to these areas.

Although the trainee’s reaction towards the “communications training” request was initially negative, he quickly realized that it showed the company’s interest in supporting him while offering him a chance to improve upon his skill in appropriate communication. This realization on his part made him an open participant in the training process.

THE TRAINING

Given the tight time frame and our mutual schedules, we decided to meet three times for 2 hours each during the week, giving us an hour for the assessment and five hours of coaching. The main focus of the training was on developing awareness of unprofessional body language. This included excessive energetic movements, head position, facial contortions, guarded body language, covering mouth and face, sideways looks, etc. We also looked at inappropriate language for the office, mental triggers that influenced his perspective, and vocal speed and volume.

The trainee quickly became aware that shifting the perception of the role he was playing allowed him to intuitively alter most of his body language, voice and vocabulary to an acceptable register for the most part. He also observed others, in particular looking at these aspects of communication, which added to his self-awareness.

With regards to cultural differences and expectations, we looked at some cultural dimensions and discussed ranges in appropriate behaviours within different cultural contexts, for example, attitudes towards raising your voice towards your subordinates, or the degree of emotion which it is acceptable to show in different cultural contexts, etc. These discussions and resources added to his growing self-awareness.

In this context, we also looked at business relations with regard to gender. We discussed the difference between treatment of women in business vs. social situations, business being generally gender neutral in Canada. He realized that when the female director was described as “tough,” it implied “for a woman,” and that she was probably pretty much the same as any other director in the industry would be.

RESULTS

The trainee clearly developed awareness of the image he was projecting through increased awareness of his body movements, facial expressions, voice and choice of words. He found it relatively simple to hold a self-perception as a director which allowed him to behave in a manner appropriate to his position. He expressed receiving  great benefit from the training, including awareness of many aspects of culture and communication which he had never previously considered.

A few weeks after the training, he contacted me to let me know that the interview had been successful and he was leaving to direct the upgrade of the American site. The goal of the training had been accomplished.