At a recent workshop for business English trainers in Munich, two interesting questions were asked. Well, in fact, many interesting questions were asked, but I want to focus on just these two:
- To what extent can we try to change people's behaviour?
- Are we trying to make them better people?
These questions make us think about our role(s) as business English trainers. Are we there to provide language knowledge? To help people improve their business communication skills? To improve people's social skills? To transmit intercultural competence? To help people with the content of their job? All of the above? None of the above?
Most business English trainers would probably say that it is not their responsibility to teach participants the content of their jobs. The participants — at least those who are "in-service" (in work) rather than "pre-service" (students) — are the experts in their fields. We are the language experts.
Or so the theory goes. But it is not quite that simple in practice. (Helen Strong discussed this topic in more detail in a blog post in 2012.) Business English trainers come from a wide variety of backgrounds and have a wide range of skills, which they can help participants to acquire. Some trainers are more language-focused, others have extensive industry experience or qualifications in intercultural training, psychometric profiling, coaching and other disciplines.
But going back to the two questions asked at the workshop, my answers are very simple:
- To a great extent.
- Depends what you mean.
To explain my first answer, I would argue that the whole point of training is to enable people to behave differently. Indeed, one could broadly define the goal of business English training as "helping people to communicate more effectively and appropriately in English at work".
So, yes, we are (or should be) trying to change people's behaviour. But that is not the same as trying to change someone's personality, let alone trying to make them a "better" person, whatever that might mean.
On the other hand, we are indeed trying to help people to develop social skills (behaviour again) that will make it easier for them to build and maintain relationships — a key criterion for success in the workplace. If that's what you mean by a "better person" — a person who is better able to connect with others — then my answer would be yes.
And how do we try to change people's behaviour? One key method is by encouraging people to use language more effectively. I'll talk more about that next week.
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