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Stress management for trainers

February 21, 2008

Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) is the process of reducing the impact and improving the recovery rate following exposure to a stressful incident. Now what actually constitutes a stressful incident is wide open to interpretation because we all respond to a given situation differently. This is no different to exposure to on-the-job training scenarios.

In my initial posts (the very first actually), I spoke of the relationship between stress and learning. The bond between the two extends even further and the processes we use to handle stress, can also assist learning. Bear in mind that not all stress management techniques work for all people, just like all training techniques don’t work equally well for all students. The model in particular that works remarkably well is the abbreviated CISM model of Facts, Feelings, Findings, Futures.

This model is a useful tool for exploring decisions and actions made by the student whilst responding to the training environment.

Facts: The first step is to describe the situation as closely as possible to actual conditions experienced. Start with the student describing the stimuli that presented using only observations and evidence. This the ‘what happened’ part. Then have the student describe (not explain) their actions and the observed results. You can add to the conversation, but stick only to the facts. There should be no assumptions, conclusions or realisations here, just a clinical recount of what actually happened. This is also referred to as ‘setting the scene’.

Feelings: Now the student has the opportunity to explain what they diagnosed and how they came to the solution they did. Was the application successful or did try ‘A’ but accidentally achieved the correct answer of ‘B’. The key point here is let the student talk. Sure pull them back on topic if the digress or stop their outpourings if they begin to repeat themselves. I often refer to this as letting the student ‘dig their own grave’ – I’m constantly surprised at how self critical some students can be.

Findings: Now it is your turn to deliver your analysis. Were any problem indicators missed or was the entire dilemma misdiagnosed? Remain clinical as possible and once again, it is cause and effect plus behaviours vs standards. Your conclusions may be used to explain why something was done but ensure that assumptions or the like are labelled clearly as such. These will form the basis of your remedial advice and the effectiveness of your assessment will degrade if the student disputes.

Futures: This is the key point. The past is history and we want to know how the student has learned form the experience. Expand on ‘so what can you do differently’ to include the analysis. There is so much scope to use this lesson in other circumstances. That also goes for the successes. Ask ‘how can we do better’ or ‘where can we apply this again’.

This process goes way beyond the ‘good work’ or ‘don’t do that again’ concept of feed back. The overall purpose of this exercise is two fold. First, we want to associate some emotional ownership of the situation to the student and strengthen the lesson (effectiveness). Second, we want the student to take what they have learned, good or bad, and have them file it under experience for use in similar circumstances (efficiency). That’s what all this is about; more effective and efficient training.

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