Ton Voogt’s speech on specific way of Training of Schouten China

I am honored to be able to speak to you today at this conference. You have come here to acquire a better picture of the training methods that Schouten China has applied, and continues to apply, with such success. Today, five of the people who have successfully completed the course will be presented with a certificate proving that they are now qualified as Soft Skill Trainers. The IRCES certificate confirms that their names have been added to this register, which can be openly accessed on the Internet.

What are the key features of the Schouten training method?

From the social sciences we have learned that all people’s actions are always driven by two basic motives. First, everyone is motivated to fulfill his or her talents, to achieve certain specific goals. Second, everyone is motivated by a desire to ‘belong’.

In pursuing these basic goals, people develop habits. Habits that are sometimes effective and efficient for a while. But then, they may outgrow their usefulness. Schouten’s training focuses on these habits at that stage in time.

Schouten China bases its work on fundamental values: it appreciates people’s efforts to find personal happiness; it seeks to contribute to organizational success and harmonious societies. We find it important for people to be able to choose for themselves between a selfish, ‘winner-takes-all’ mentality, putting others first, and sharing advantages. Each unique situation calls for a specific choice. In principle, there is something to be said for each of these choices. Everything depends on the situation and the rules. Doing business is about winning, and the winner does ‘take all’. But in a team, if each of the members is going after his own self-interest, the results of the  team as a whole will suffer. On the other hand, putting others first all the time will leave you empty-handed.

Schouten China’s training courses help to strengthen self-respect. We set out to expand social skills, helping people to build up relationships in which people respect each other without giving up their own self-respect. We work for individuals, and with individuals. We engage with their values, their attitudes, their self-confidence and their skills to express themselves and to improve their relationships with others.

Why does this matter so much? Let me tell you very briefly how we look at people and their habits. People develop habits. These habits help them to act efficiently without  spending too much time and energy weighing things up and reflecting. And they continue to be effective as long as the results continue to be satisfying. But what happens when they are no longer satisfied with the result? Or when others make it clear that they are not satisfied with the effects of these habits? People often respond by making resolutions: “I’m going to do things differently from now on”. They may say, “You’re quite right, I’ll change the way I do things.” But often, it just doesn’t happen. Why not?

The efficiency of a habit comes from the fact that it is internalized; you act without being conscious of it. It’s like a reflex, which takes effect before the conscious mind even has time to notice. We say, “I did it without thinking” or “I’d already done it before I became aware of it”. We often feel bad about admitting this: we prefer to think we have everything under our conscious control. But habits don’t belong in that area. Habits take effect before we become conscious of what we’re doing. Conscious control doesn’t work, however much we might like to think it does. That’s because habits have become ingrained in our  emotional and physical constitution. This has very important implications for the kind of training that is needed to change habits. Schouten China is geared towards changing habits. So it has to use special methods, which are effective in changing habits. If all we were to do would be to make people aware of their habits, encourage reflection and new resolutions, make recommendations and encourage people to copy others – that’s not the way to achieve permanent changes.

Since habits are anchored in people’s emotional and physical constitution, they are highly resistant to changing influences. A habitual response takes place independently of the situation. Habits are anchored with feelings of fear which arise if the habits can’t be applied, or if they’re blocked. Fear of negative repercussions, fear of negative reactions from other people, fear of failure. On the other hand, they’re also anchored with feelings of relief or satisfaction which arise when these habits are applied.

Take the following example. Some people have the habit of avoiding the anxiety and stress they feel when they have to stand up and speak in front of a group of people by avoiding the situation altogether. But this means that they miss out on an opportunity to show that they have good ideas. As a result, their own career may stagnate, and the company does not get the benefit of their ideas. This in turn will make them feel very dissatisfied. So they make a new resolution: next time they will grab that chance. But then they often discover that they don’t have the necessary tools to avoid the feelings of anxiety and stress. So they end up avoiding the situation again and achieving a temporary sense of relief, and as a result, their sense of self-worth is eroded still further.

The methods applied by SchoutenChina involves first inviting participants to formulate some precise goals. Then we encourage them to break the old habit in very stressful situations. We encourage them to go through the stress and display more desirable behavior. After that, they can repeat it dozens more times – not just in training sessions, but in real situations too: in shops, in the street, or in the office. People gradually learn which specific techniques work for them, and practice them.

The people who take part in Training for Trainers realize that as prospective trainers,  they too have habits they need to break. Habits that may be much valued in everyday life, but which are not useful in a training situation. In everyday life, the ability not to put people under stress is valued very highly. It is considered good not to confront people with stressful situations. In normal life, challenging so-called ‘normal’ views is not appreciated. But trainers have to be able to create difficulties and put people in situations that are stressful. They have to be able to create uncertainty and to make their limitations visible. They also learn how to create an environment in which people feel safe enough to dare to confront their own weaknesses.

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