CreditsLast Updated 2014-08
The impact of any training program depends upon the participants’ ability to integrate new information and use that information effectively. Security training emotionally challenges both trainers and trainees in many interesting ways. The study of fear is a deep and thought-provoking area, and as trainers, we learn about ourselves and about those we teach.
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By Craig Higson-Smith, of the Center for Victims of Torture
The most important lesson from part one is that security trainers should pay close attention to the level of anxiety experienced by participants. Too little anxiety and they will not be motivated to engage in the training or learn new skills, whereas too much anxiety and the fear buttons in their brains are pressed and the capacity to learn may be reduced. There is, however, a happy medium that all security trainers aim for.
To help us visualize anxiety in the training room, we should imagine a pressure gauge:
…on the left represents those who are “cool” towards the issue of security and unlikely to engage effectively with the material. This zone includes people who are genuinely unaware of danger, or who believe—rightly or wrongly—that their existing security provisions are adequate.
…in the middle represents those whose level of anxiety is appropriate for effective security training. These are people who feel appropriately anxious when asked to consider the threats implicit in their work. The Green Zone also includes people who are generally worried about their safety.
…represents those who are more anxious and who may easily be triggered to a level where they are unable to learn. This zone includes people who are fearful and those who have slipped into one or more survival responses.
…on the far right represents those participants who are overwhelmed with anxiety, or seriously traumatized. These people should most likely not be participants in the security training.
When “reading” the pressure gauge to assess the anxiety of participants, it is important to remember that anxiety is dynamic. Different people in the training group will enter the training at different levels. It is useful to get a reading of the group as a whole, as well as for each individual.
In a group of participants who are predominantly in the blue zone, you will need to focus your training on raising anxiety levels by helping people appreciate the risks present in their work. A group of participants predominantly in the orange zone need a trainer who is able to discuss danger without pressing their sensitive fear buttons.
One of the most difficult types of groups to work with is the group with participants spread all over the dial. Techniques for raising or lowering the pressure in the group, as well as techniques for working with mixed groups are discussed in more detail a little later.
Not only will individual participants enter training at different levels, but they will also shift on the dial in response to different activities and the influence of other members of the group. This can work for or against the trainer. The challenge is to use activities and manage the group dynamic in such a way that most participants stay within the Green Zone for the entire training. Remember that healthy participants will act automatically, unconsciously, and immediately to make themselves safer.
For example, a participant may start checking their email during the training in order to distract themselves from upsetting conversations. They will also act to make themselves feel safer, such as suggesting the trainer or others in the group are exaggerating the prevalence of a particular threat. In other words, participants will tend to shift naturally towards the “cooler” end in the Blue Zone of the dial - only those in the Red Zone may not be able to do this on their own. Significant movement towards the red end of the dial suggests that either the training activities or the group dynamic are pressing people’s fear buttons in a way that is not conducive to effective security trainings.
When reading the anxiety pressure gauge, it is important to notice all aspects of participants’ communication. When we think about communication we tend to focus on what is being said; however, what is spoken represents a relatively small portion of our total communication. We communicate a great deal of information with our facial expression, tone of voice, in the way we hold our bodies, and overall behavior. A skilled facilitator pays attention to all aspects of communication when assessing the participants in a training group.
It is useful to pay conscious attention to what each person says, how they hold their bodies, their facial expression and tone, as well as their behavior. This provides a sense of the emotional tone of the group as a whole, and training strategies can be adapted to suit. The following illustrate typical profiles of participants in the different anxiety zones:
“Cool” towards the issue of security; unlikely to engage effectively with the material.
Level of anxiety is appropriate for effective security training.
More anxious; may easily be triggered to a level where they are unable to learn.
Participants who are overwhelmed with anxiety, or seriously traumatized.
It will quickly become apparent that some participants do not fit easily into any of the zones described above. These people are sending mixed signals. Human beings communicate with mixed signals for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we try to hide our true feelings in order to maintain our privacy, and other times we do this to protect other peoples’ feelings. Consider the following examples:
He sits quietly on his own, seems unable to relax, and constantly rubs the side of his forehead. And yet, when you ask him how he feels today, he replies in a bright voice that he is excited to be attending the workshop and looking forward to what you have to teach—classic Green Zone behavior. We can speculate that John is actually quite anxious about attending the workshop, but is trying to present himself as a good workshop participant. If this is true, for John to get the full benefit of the workshop you must help John feel safer and more confident.
She spontaneously tells you that she has been looking forward to this training, and has some ideas that you might find interesting. And yet you notice that during the first session she is responding to texts on her mobile phone, and her participation is minimal. This is the behavior you would expect from someone in the Blue Zone. One possibility is that Mary does not truly want to be at the workshop and that she is just trying to be nice. For her to get the full benefit of the workshop, you will need to find a way to help her appreciate the threats associated with her work and the value of what you have to teach.
If you are finding it difficult to analyze the mixed communication of a particular person, trust your gut! As a social species, human beings have evolved a wonderfully sophisticated ability to read the emotions of the people around us. As a healthy, sensitive human being, you might get the feeling that a person is angry, sad, or anxious. You are probably correct, even if you are unable to explain how it is that you know this.