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Use disasters as teaching tools

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

Success stories can inspire your team. Anecdotes about star team members who excel not only make people smile and share high-fives, but they also massage the ego of your winners.

But there’s an easy-to-overlook problem with success stories: They’re ineffective training tools.

When you want staffers to retain key points, make them see the sting of mistakes. Disasters resonate with people; happy, successful outcomes do not.

Behavioral researcher Wendy Joung and her colleagues discovered that firefighters who were given case studies of on-the-job mistakes learned more readily than those who reviewed case studies of what went right. The firefighters gained more insight by learning about peers who made faulty decisions than from accounts of successes.

To make sure learning points sink in with your team, don’t just warn them of the costs of potential misfires. Share accounts of how bad judgment led to even worse results. If possible, cite your experience grappling with such disasters and describe a time, place and activity so that your story comes vividly alive to your listeners.

One of the reasons that past blunders serve as good training fodder is that they encourage employees to ponder how they’d react in similar circumstances. This fuels adaptive thinking. You want team members to conclude, “If X happened instead of Y, then so much grief could’ve been avoided.”

Positive stories, by contrast, rarely provoke much of a response. They may be temporarily uplifting, but they’re easy to forget.

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