Crucial Skills®

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Trainer Insights

From the Road: What Happens in Training, Stays in Training

Steve Willis is vice president of professional services at VitalSmarts.Steve Willis is vice president of professional services at VitalSmarts.

From the Road

Hardly a training goes by that a participant doesn’t invoke the training version of the Vegas rule: What happens in training, stays in training. Let me explain.

Too often, trainers think the beginning of their course is the beginning of their participant’s learning experience. But if you think about it, the learning experience begins way before 8:00 a.m. on the first day of class (or 8:20, if your classes are like mine). When participants reach the class, they’re actually in the middle of their learning experience. They are bringing with them scenarios, frustrations, and context from past failures. And likewise, the end of the class shouldn’t be considered the end of their learning experience. Good trainers hope and expect that a person acquires much of their learning in the process of doing—of practicing the skills and approaches in real-life situations.

So how does the Vegas rule impede learning? I remember one participant, Angela, who parted with her learning as the training ended. I ran into her a couple of days later and found that although she’d rated the skills as “very useful” on the course evaluation, she was scoring low on her “actually applied the skills” score. What she learned in training had stayed in training—end of story.

So, what are you doing during training to make sure the learning continues outside the classroom? What’s worked and what hasn’t worked? Post your comment below and let me know. Angela needs help!

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24 thoughts on “From the Road: What Happens in Training, Stays in Training”

  1. Jackie D

    We tried to engage our participants in a skills lab immediately after the training–no one signed up !!

    We have other skills labs–this is an attempt to put the leader in a real life situation that helps him to learn and use the skills—

    For some reason we could not get buy in to the Crucial Conversations skills lab—although all of us instructors thought it was a great idea.

    We have put a role play in place as the very last activity of the second day of training. This has worked well with good participation from the class.

    We found a very high energy level from the participants from this and just prior to the evaluations of the classes.

    I am certainly interested in what has “worked” for others in the area


  2. Megan G.

    I add a little bit more to this when I say it. What I say is:

    We treat this room like Vegas-what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, right? Well, you bring pictures back from Vegas, and you tell people what you saw and did… but there are some stories that you choose to leave behind. That’s what we do here today-take the learning with you, but leave the stories behind. People want to know what you learned, not the dirty laundry of your table partners. Can we agree to that?

    This goes over well. Thank you for asking for alternatives

  3. Roberta S.

    Here’s what we are setting into motion using our electronic learning management system. Prior to this initiative, students took home their course books but did not have electronic access to their materials, so if they were in the field, or away from their book shelves, they had no resources from the course.

  4. Marion K.

    I haven’t attended an in person training but have read the 3 books and listened to the Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations audio books. The first time I read the books I thought “This is great, logical and easy to do. I can do this, no problem” and then, to my disappointment and dismay, found that in fact, I wasn’t doing what had been taught.

    What has helped is listening again to the audio books to review and hear the information, committing to at least one new tool to use, read the e-newsletters (refreshes the concepts for me) and not giving up. There is a better way to respond than silence or violence! I also take every opportunity available to me to teach the concepts.

    I am far from being good but do think I have gotten better at difficult conversations. Thank you!!

  5. Margie D.

    I really am interested in the article and what you learn from people. I hope you will share the outcomes. This is something I’ve struggled with and have tried various things to “follow-up.” The downside is there is 1 ½ FTE doing Leadership Education and Staff Development for 3500 people. I’ve tried emails post-training with information as a review. I send articles and ask for feedback to assess retention of learning. The best situation happened yesterday as a Clinical Manager was sharing her experience with our Nurse Residency Candidates. As I heard her share I was amazed at how much she information she experienced was put into her Leadership practice. She was a great example because she was open to learning and asking for others experiences.

    Thanks for the on-going communication done through Vital Smarts.

  6. Peggy F.

    Hi Steve,

    I don’t offer training without follow-up as part of the package – a conference call, individual coaching, etc. Over my HR career I’ve seen literally millions spent on training that goes no further than the training session. At the very least, have participants self-address a couple of postcards with their commitment goals included and mail them to the participant at appropriate intervals.

    Thanks for tackling this issue.

  7. Robert W.

    Steve, I noticed the same thing when my employees went to a training- they did not bring back the skills they learned (or were very quiet about it). What I did may not help Angela, but it helped my staff to keep the training alive.

    What I did was create a form that each employee fills out and then presents verbally at a staff meeting. The form asks for them to write down three new things they learned, three things they can improve on, and what action they will take or what change they will make as a result of the training. Their writing on the form helps to put their learning into perspective and the presentation helps to solidify the learning as an action step. It may also hold them more accountable for what they learn. The presentation to staff has the secondary effect of spreading and communicating knowledge and information to employees who could not attend.

  8. Theresa D.

    I am a huge fan of Crucial Conversations & Influencer. I have had Crucial Conversations training twice (slow learner!), Crucial Confrontations and recently, Influencer training. I also struggled, as Angela did, in applying my new learning back home/in the office. What has worked for me may not work for others but I will share it in the hope that it helps others on their journey.

    I bring the materials from the class to a place where I will see them routinely. Office desk (in plain sight) or kitchen table, so that I have a visual cue, and also to incite others to ask me about it, which gives me a chance to recap what I learned. It also holds me a little more accountable if others know what I have been trained on recently. I also have a “cheat sheet” of Crucial Choices that I must have received in some past training permanently posted above my phone at work.

    I also set up meetings with peers that I know are interested in lifelong learning to share what I’ve learned. Sometimes this is just a casual lunch and other times I actually bring the training material and go over it with them so that they get a good idea of what we covered. Since I’m not a real “trainer” I always recommend that they attend the training (I explain that I can’t possibly share everything I learned over two days in a one-hour lunch) and because I sincerely find the quality of training excellent I don’t mind recommending it to them. Reviewing what I’ve learned with others helps me to understand it better and clarifies things in my mind. These same peers often follow up with me to see how it’s going and whether or not I’ve been able to put my training to practical use – more accountability!

    I hope these ideas are helpful.

  9. Sinikka W.


    Thanks for your thought-provoking article on training! One of my favorite things about coaching is seeing the light go on, and watching people “get it” or have “aha” moments during training sessions. And, by contrast, one of the most frustrating things is to encounter someone after a training class who simply isn’t applying what I know they learned.

    Studies show that alarming percentages of what we learn is lost within hours of a formal learning session if we don’t apply it right away, so I find a way to work in real-life application in every training opportunity that I can.

    Most of my training classes include topics that I make somewhat generic or widely applicable so we can all relate to them, but after every concept or teaching point I want them to take away, I stop talking for a few minutes and give them an “in-class assignment” to make a note of how this learning applies to something they’re working on, and what they’re going to do about it. At the end of the class, I remind them that they took action items, and encourage them to follow up. For my coaching clients, I also reach out within a couple of days to follow up and make sure they’ve done the work. The more often I can give them a tangible takeaway (a half-sheet of paper, or something that looks different from just a plain 8.5 x 11 page), the more often I see them applying their learnings outside of class.

    What sorts of things have you found to be useful?

  10. Tonya W.

    I read your article about Angela and just wanted to share what has helped me apply the training outside of the classroom.

    When we took the Crucial Conversations training, we were assigned a “Learning Partner” and encouraged to get together with our learning partner on a regular basis and talk about what was working for us, what wasn’t, and any crucial conversations that were going to come up. This has proved very helpful. In fact, today is a Crucial Conversations lunch day – we generally meet about every 4-6 weeks and we go to lunch and talk about crucial conversations. In addition, when I’ve had some expectation of a crucial conversation coming up, I’ve gone to her and talked about my plans and asked for suggestions.

    I think Crucial Conversations was one of the best training classes I have ever taken and am glad my learning partner has helped me remember to continue using the skills.

  11. Liz T.

    As much as we all love a good diet analogy, I think it can apply to this scenario.

    A number of highly respected sources tell readers that to stick with a diet you need a plan but it really helps to share that plan. Telling your friends, family, co-workers that you have a goal to lose ten pounds by December is telling them that it’s okay to give coaching and encouragement. When you need a bit of help getting over a hurdle, bring in the reinforcements…sharing something personal is a new kind of challenge for a lot of us, but it gives others the opportunity to look at us in a different light.

    Angela could put her Crucial skills into play by sharing with her team the fact she attended this class. And she shouldn’t stop at just telling them she attended, she should talk to them about why she went and what she hopes to achieve with that new knowledge.

    Could the team then help her make that next big milestone? Could she be encouraged to ask for feedback and they be willing to give it? Can they all end up learning more and interacting more respectfully by having risen to the challenge of helping someone stick to their goals?

  12. Diana W.

    I’ve learned that in reality most, if not all, conversations really boil down to crucial conversations. While the stakes may not be high enough to fit the strict definition of a “Crucial Conversation,” the principles are still effective. Case in point. I’m usually the impatient talker — one who barges in, not waiting for finished sentences, etc (brought up in the North). In the South things don’t work that way. Most are too polite, waiting until you finish sentences, etc. It has taken a while to get used to that mindset, but in that time I’m waiting for the person to finish, the one word that goes through my mind now is “OBJECTIVE.” What do I want to get out of the conversation. It has worked wonders for my ability to read non-verbal cues and really think about the conversation. Since using the principles does not come naturally to me, it also gives me time to formulate a response in my mind before my mouth opens (novel concept!!!). I find that in general the conversations are actually shorter and more productive. Since I use this mindset for essentially all conversations, it has also helped take the scariness out of having a true crucial conversation.

  13. Angela R.

    From one Angela to another:

    I have to say the Vegas rule doesn’t apply when it come to me and training tools. What happens in training is something I’m trying to instantly apply, particularly if something “clicks”. Ask my close friends and close co-workers who often are part of my “expanded tool kit”, see below.

    For me, the rule from crucial conversations class that has been truly helpful here and says it all: Make it safe.

    As I mentioned above, I enlist close trusted friends and coworkers to explore, test, train and use the tools from any class or training I take. It’s even a bit easier if you have a coworker buddy or someone from the class that you can have as a “training buddy” to have a regular call to practice. Yes, I said practice. Like in my new adventure in martial arts training, I can read and read and read on techniques and movements. It’s only when I actually “do” that it locks in. Plus, the more you practice, the more comfortable the techniques are to perform. When it becomes second nature (through lots of practice) then the skill will be there when you really need it. In defending yourself or others, you can easily see the point I’m trying to make about having the skill in place through practice. I believe this practice directly applies to being better equipped for challenges we face when a conversation goes crucial.

    So the things that have worked for me include:
    – Enlisting a training buddy AND PRACTICING
    – Keeping those little flashcards on me AND reviewing them regularly
    – Most of all, remembering to breathe, being sincere and speaking from the heart

  14. Hugh M.

    Dear Steve,

    This is a very common challenge with most trainers, and most trainees.
    I have heard it said by many fellow participants something along the lines of “This is all very well, and good, but when are we going to get to use this stuff?”

    Often the time between the training and the (immediately impending) need for the skills is in the order of months to years.

    From my own study, the problem is that we are all human, using self-programming brains to control how we act upon the world.
    Combine this with “Perception is %100 of EVERYTHING”, and it’s easy to see that everyone needs different training in order to learn each set of material best.

    Fortunately, Tony Buzan, and Gordon Dryden, et al, and books similar to “Quantum Learning” and “The Learning Revolution” et al, highlight the solution to that part of the problem very nicely. There is an enormous amount of study done since my reading of those books, but they were the first that I read on the subject.

    Although infinitely variable, humanities differences do fall into a relatively few broad classifications.

    From there, an educator can sculpt their teachings to match the styles likely to be most prevalent in their audience to get the best result.
    There are statistics (Quantum Learning) such as %70 (from memory) of the Caucasian population are primarily Visual, Audio, and that will help until your class is significantly Island, or Asian, or Prison, or …

    One further thing, which is missed in the school curriculum that I have exposure to. That of teaching children how to understand their own learning style, so they can ask the right questions.

    The only way that I have heard of enacted to get around this type of challenge on a wider community scale, is a (relatively) recent video by Bill Gates on on schools that are doing well to address this type of challenge in a way that does work in the community. This particular video starts with Bill talking about Mosquitoes and Malaria, but half way through, moves on to Education.

    Sorry for my slightly off topic rant, it’s something that I care about.
    A lot.

    Thanks for Vital Smarts, it is improving the life of those I care about.

  15. Anderson Y.

    What helps me after the Training is to listen to the 6 CD’s in the car. I have listened to the CD’s many times and will listens to them when there is an important matter to attend.

    Listening to CD’s will keep re-introducing the subject matters and slowly it can prompt application thoughts about current and upcoming issues. With a clear idea of an approach is the time to venture forward and apply what was learned. This is a lifelong effort which is never perfect, but can be rewarding. Nothing ventured is nothing gained.

    I have enjoyed the benefit of applying the course with my family, friends, and on the job. Thank you for the course.

  16. Carol Eastwick

    For multi-session workshops, I give Learning Activities at the end of each session and ask participants to use the tools they have learned once they are back at work. In the subsequent session, they report their successes (other participants congratulate) or failures (class looks for solutions). This helps the participant to change their behavior by using the new tools and by getting kudos for having success. The other classmates gain by helping to find solutions if the new tools “failed”.

    Bottom line…all participants are involved in doing, learning and training, which helps to change habits and existing behavior!

    Single session training presents more difficulties since using new tools requires changing. One instructor on time management helped to solve this dilemma by emailing participants weekly and then monthly for 3 months to see if the participants were using the new tools.

  17. Nic Stevens

    When I do Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations, I ask participants to write in the inside cover of the participant’s book “WAYS TO PRACTICE”. I keep a flip chart of the wall (titled the same).After lunch on day one, with candy in hand, I ask for examples of ways to practice that I’ve mentioned in the morning. Each correct respondent gets a piece of candy. We collect ways to practice during the rest of the course. Examples are:

    Share Participant’s book
    Share Authors’ book
    Use plastic case with cards
    Keep one page info sheet near by
    Put CD’s in car when commuting
    Utilize Team Application at end of each principle
    Utilize Team Review at beginning of new principle
    Staff meeting agenda item to include one aspect of either course
    Teach someone a principle weekly
    Find a learning partner
    Work on your Acid Test
    Visit VitalSmarts web site
    Read CRUCIALSKILLS weekly email
    Sign up for Mastery Mission
    Observe others in a crucial conversation and pick out what is done right/wrong
    Ask “Is that a fact or a story?” frequently
    Encourage the team/others to take the Silence/Violence self-assessment

    With sometimes more that 20 different ways to practice, my “Angela’s” come back from “Vegas” big winners.

    Additionally, my colleague Ed Archangel and I are doing short videos to be viewed on our company’s intranet. Employees can tune in and watch us have an altercation, then watch us work it out using the appropriate Crucial skills and have us explain how we did it. Nothing stays in Vegas here.

  18. Oliver Konarkowski

    Hi Steve,

    I wanted to take a moment to respond to your inquiry regarding skill application after the workshop. We too struggled with the notion of how do we make these skills part of a person DNA vs a 2 day skill dunk. We looked at all the tools VitalSmarts has to offer ie. Book, Contract Cards, Audio CD’s and Mastery Mission and decided to leverage those during the program and sell the need for participants to carve out time during their week to review the content and practice using these tools.

    While that was a start we needed to do more. We began by delivering the workshop to intact teams. At the end of the program we provided team leaders with questions they could use to facilitate discussion during monthly Staff Meetings to discuss how each team member has used the skills ; what has worked, where are they struggling.

    We took it one step further and entered the Web 2.0 world by developing a Crucial Conversations Roundtable. This 1 hour webinar was a social network for all past Crucial Conversation company participants to share best practices, hurdles and to talk openly about some of the skills again.

    Feedback has been tremendous and we consistently get e-mail examples of how participants have been using the skills to improve their business results.

    While we continue to look for ways to help participants make the skills real and allow them to test drive and practice, we certainly have found this approach to increase sustainability.

  19. Carol Bridges

    I, along with a few colleagues, have been doing 2-day Renewal sessions with our employees. Near the end of day 2, we have a module called “Aligning our Work” which gives participants an opportunity to partner with 5-6 colleagues who have also been in the training and create a single poster (per table) that depicts “what will I do differently when I leave this training”. In other words, their action steps. Then each table presents their posters to the entire group, they are usually very colorful, creative, and heart-felt. It’s a wonderful exercise and the participants are in control. We encourage them to take the posters back to their depts., or have recently begun scanning them and sending them all back out to the group.

  20. Barbara Deol

    I think that to encourage participants to continue training after they have left the training, is the way that the Advisory Board leadership academy does it. They have a list of questions and application scenarios that help the participant apply what they have learned. Also to give the participants a partially completed certificate and ask their employer to assist in getting the rest of the work done… application or post test. That might help with the application of the concepts.

  21. Barb Sandvick

    Implementing what is learned in training seems to be a big hurdle for a variety of reasons. I believe that our employees who attend training really do intend and want to use new tools to increase their performance. Unfortunately trying to do more with less and returning to work groups that have not been to the same training quickly drains their best intentions. Here’s a couple of things we’ve tried:

    1. After a class like Crucial Conversations, we send an email to attendees each week for 2 months. The email is short and prompts them to remember and use one of the CC tools. Then the next email reminds them of last week’s email tool and adds another tool and encourages them practice. The emails were set up with future delivery dates, so once created didn’t require a lot of administration.

    2. Participants in our Leadership Development Program are expected to complete a very simple form we created. The form asks them to identify the class, the facilitator, dates attended, and to describe the 1 or 2 best nuggets they took from the class and how they plan to implement those nuggets. They share the completed form with their coach, supervisor, and program internal resource person so they can talk about what they learned and help hold the attendee accountable.

    These things have helped a little but haven’t had quite as much impact as I’d hoped. I’d love to hear better ideas. I think it’s very important that we increase our training ROI, and I also see how employees struggle to put the things they learn into practice. Any new ideas would be appreciated.

  22. Stuart Moring

    We had customer service training for supervisory staff about 4 months ago. Periodically I do a Department Update that goes to all staff, and try to pick out one or two of the key points to emphasize. Then I will pose a customer service question, and give a prize, like a Target gift card, for the first (or the most, or the best) right answer.

  23. Deb D'Aurora

    We have created a 3 hour follow up course using the articles “Silence Kills” and “Dialogue Heals”. This course has contact hours associated with it as an added incentive for attending and is held in our health care seting so clinical providers hear the research about their own profession. We then spend the majority of the class practicing conversations using scenarios they bring from their own experiences. As a facilitator it keeps us on our toes to never know what will come up but the real “Hot potatoes” get worked out by the group and it proves very meaningful. Participants are then encouraged to retake the “Style Under Stress Survey” online and follow the recommendations for skills they need to practice. We also provide the audio CDs and encourage the use of these when the survey results are reviewed. Our outcome data shows it’s working!

  24. Corliss

    Although geographically impossible for some teams, I do my “training” (really development) for a few hours a week over time, depending on the extent of the engagement. That way I can build on knowledge and give them time to practice in “real life” and share that experience and get feedback. Because this process is done over time, I also schedule a session mid-way and at the end WITH THEIR MANAGER! I tell managers exactly what they are learning so they would know the language and be able to support their efforts and give me feedback on the application of the “soft skills” they were learning. It also did an accountability number on the participants because they knew I was meeting with their manager. Result? Changed behaviors! In a month! Everyone was thrilled and happy but no one was more thrilled than HR Momma, who had guaranteed their satisfaction or their money back! Whew!

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