A Student’s Challenging Question – Soft Skills
Last month, while serving a Baltimore client for whom I trained 70 technicians in soft skills behaviors, a mutually beneficial opportunity arose. This Baltimore client was near Lincoln Technical Institute in Columbia, MD where Glen Grimm, the HVAC Program Supervisor uses my company’s textbooks and curriculum materials.
My offer to colleges who invest in our educational resources is that if travel brings me near your facility, then I will teach soft skills classes for free. Glen and I agreed to a schedule and I was filled anticipation about the upcoming Lincoln Tech visit.
When I arrived there and started teaching a soft skills class about career advancement, I was not connecting with the students. Their body language made this apparent. Then one student challenged me. “Have you ever made any big mistakes?” he asked. It was time for me to go off script.
I shared a youthful experience in which I blew a job interview with a construction company. Back then I was too cool, too proud and too stupid to cut my hair and wear proper attire. Making a positive first impression was low on my priority list. A construction company owner reviewed my job application and he liked what he saw on paper, but my appearance was a different matter. Needless-to-say, I did not get the job.
As I described this mistake along with the interview details, the students leaned forward and their body language clearly indicated that we were now connecting. The students stayed engaged from this point forward – I had finally connected.
This event was a reminder to me that sometimes it’s important to connect with people at their level. Real rapport occurs when we understand others first. Then seek to be understood by them.
Great example Steve!
I find that students listen to stories more than traditional lectures. They especially enjoy stories about people screwing up – it must be human nature. I tell stories on myself – how I have done something that might be exactly what I tell my students not to do. I can make fun of myself and explain the negative consequences I suffered and they remember it.
Positive stories work well also. I usually tell stories about other techs or former students and how they solved a problem for someone. I stay in contact with my students for years – they often come by school. I think the students learn from and are inspired by people that have been in theri position and are now enjoying success.