Training Psychology

This is a bit of a departure from my afternoon essays, thus this is posted in the morning.

I left my maintenance engineering job to establish a maintenance training organization for one of my best bosses.  I never returned to engineering, staying in one training position after another until forced into retirement, at about 63 years old, roughly thirty years later.

I have documented that I did poorly in Psychology in college for one semester, but in becoming a training manager, I learned about Training Psychology and I used it whenever possible.

In an industrial setting, you would think that the trainees would be motivated to help the company grow.  Better company growth leads to better pay raises and better individual performance can lead to be recognized and promoted.  This is sadly not the case, and the trend seems to be in the opposite direction getting worse in the last ten years or so, in my opinion.

For example, for the past ten years, I have travelled the world teaching how to be efficient in the use of combustion furnaces in the metals industry.  But the companies that hand out performance bonuses hand out bonuses based on production, not efficiency.  This means that they over fire their furnaces in the vain hopes of making more product, wasting copious amounts of heat.  In the meantime, they pollute the environment and add to the carbon footprint.  Over firing causes a lot of problems, but under firing might lead to a metal product that is rejected by the customer, and there goes their bonus.  They err toward a greater chance of a bonus, rather than doing their job properly, and their employer encourages this behavior.

The companies that don’t have a bonus system have totally unmotivated employees, unless that motivation stems from a greater character within the individual.  To be honest, I talked to that one individual, that every plant seems to have, more than the rest of the class combined.  They are truly interesting people to talk to.

But let’s look at some simple concepts of Training Psychology.  First, the textbook.  If you must read a book in six weeks, and you are given the choice of Animal Farm by Orwell or War and Peace by Tolstoy, which would you choose?  Let me describe both books, without giving away any of the plot – at all.  Animal Farm is a short book.  Let’s say this publication is 200 pages.  To stretch it that far, the font size is large; there are a lot of pictures; and there is a lot of space around the margins and between paragraphs.  War and Peace is in the abridged version, not the full novel.  It is 1,700 pages long.  The font is just barely large enough to read without a magnifying glass.  There seems to be no margins as the print extends to the edges of the pages in all directions.  And there are no pictures.

Confession:  I made a bad grade on a six-week report card in the eighth grade (I think, maybe ninth grade).  My parents insisted that I step up my game with a variety of carrots provided, but also strong violent threats.  To ‘step up my game,’ I chose War and Peace.  But that is me, a “D” to an “A”, and teacher’s pet in the process.  I also read a copy of Animal Farm in a summer class on speed reading about a year later.  I read the 120-page book in less than five minutes and passed the exam, proving that I comprehended enough of the book to pass the summer class.  I think I got an 85 on the test.  So, I have read both books, but you aren’t even going to be able to turn the pages of War and Peace in five minutes.

Okay, you get the idea, most people are going to pick the shorter book with a lot of “white space” on each page.  You get “white space,” assuming you use white paper, by providing wide margins, larger spacing between paragraphs, a font that uses less Kerning – like tucking the beginning of a capital “A” underneath the overhang of a capital “T.”  A larger font size can stretch more white space, with greater space between printed lines.  Less information on each page, and you might get some of the trainees to say, “I can learn this little bit.”  They then find that they can learn the next ‘little bit’ as well.

What is the problem?  Business costs go up.  The textbook uses more paper, more ink, and does anyone read these stupid textbooks anyway?  All these reasons may be valid from a business model standpoint, but they leave the trainees looking at War and Peace and giving up trying to learn before the class begins.

Now let’s look at “Color.”  The psychology of color is used everywhere without you noticing that “psychology” has anything to do with it.  Go to a fast-food restaurant.  In most of them, what are the colors that you see in the dining area?  Red, orange, yellow.  The lighting is bright, and the music is up tempo.  Go to a fine-dining restaurant, what colors do you see?  Muted colors, but they are blue, brown, and green.  The lighting is dim, and the music is slow jazz or classical.  Fast food makes its money by getting you to eat faster and putting someone else at your table as fast as possible.  The fine-dining experience is all about the experience.  They want to you stay a while, drink more, and order the over-priced desserts.  It is all Psychology.

So, when you are making a color presentation, do you use red?  In some organizations, red is avoided at all cost.  It agitates the trainee.  They are less likely to do what you are trying to get them to do.  But I have used that Psychology to my advantage in safety concerns.  I have used red to agitate them enough so that they don’t do what will harm them.  Orange is the next most agitating color.  I tried to avoid it whenever possible.

What colors do you use?  Yellow, although a “hot” color like red and orange, makes a good color to highlight something.  Blue is the best.  In looking at contrasting colors that are easy to read, thus more likely to be read, black and white is a no brainer, but then yellow on blue, blue on yellow, the blue-white combination, and then the green-white combination.  I think I have those right.  This then should lead to graphic labels in blue and green when the drawing itself is black on white.

Why?  People will accept the information more readily, because the accented colors are more soothing.

And a last note about Training Psychology, a dear friend, who passed away a few years ago, showed me something that I rarely did in class.  I always projected so that everyone could hear, but if the class is small enough, my friend showed how a personal conversation with the guy near the back of the class could change the tone of your voice, making the voice more pleasing and the words more acceptable.  Everyone could hear, but you were simply carrying on a conversation with one person, rather than lecturing.  When he shifted into that method of speaking, everyone in the class leaned forward, ready to receive whatever he was saying.  It reminded me of the Pied Piper.

Think of the difference in listening to Max Lucado spin a story that you can easily relate to versus a dogmatic fire and brimstone lecture that seems to be shoved down your throat. They may both be effective, but I, for one, could listen to Max Lucado’s story telling and watch his broad smile for hours. It’s inviting.

I could go on with other examples of Training Psychology, but I wrote this down just to let people know that the old adage is wrong.  In many cases, “those who can’t, teach.  And those who can’t teach, supervise or manage.”  But for someone who saw technology advancing while the education system lagged even further behind, I stayed in industrial training to bridge that gap.  Technology is useless, if it is not used to its utmost advantage.

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