Learning at Work

Young folks often associate learning with what teachers “make” us do in school. Here’s an eye-opener: the cold, hard reality is that even after graduation, learning continues. Yup! In many workplaces, you need to continuously learn if you want to be successful and make lots of cold hard cash.

This article is one in a series on learning. 
You can find the first article in the series here.

Take Simon, for example. At work, he entered orders and solved customer problems easily. Simon was happy, knowledgeable, and comfortable with his competence.

Then, the big bosses ruined things! After a day of “training,” Simon needs to use the new database, completely different than what he was so accustomed to. He feels lost in a jungle of unfamiliar screens and menus.

Yesterday, Simon entered an order of 1000 units instead of 10. He caught it in time; however, the horror of the potential consequences of the error left him shaken. How embarrassing and expensive would that be? If he doesn’t smarten up, he could lose this job. How could work go from fun to frightful so fast?

Simon has choices in how he responds to his changed situation. Here are some options:

• Choose worry, demonstrated by self-talk such as, “I’ll never learn this” or, “What will I do if I lose my job?”
• Choose anger, with behaviours such as snapping at customers who complain that he’s slow, followed by going home to snarl at his beloved dog.
• Choose criticizing, by expressing, “The bosses don’t know what’s going on; they don’t care about the customers.”
• Choose to complain, “The training was no good,” or, “The system was perfect before they messed it up.”

How effective do you think those options will be? Probably not the greatest, eh? Let’s look at some different possibilities.

• Choose to respect. Simon could choose to respect the knowledge of the people who have introduced the new system and look for the benefits of the change, rather than seeing only the downside. Understanding benefits can make it easier to understand the “why” of what he now needs to do.
• Choose to trust. Simon could choose to trust that he is a valuable, respected employee who is having temporary difficulties, rather than leaping to the conclusion that his whole career will crash because of this one setback.
• Choose to accept that he doesn’t understand and ask for help. Simon resisted asking for help, thinking it would reflect badly on him. Which is better: to request extra training and become competent? Or to remain confused and fearful, with the risk of a potentially expensive mistake?
• Choose to listen. Asking comes first, but listening to the answers is the essential next step.

It’s hard to learn when you feel afraid, under pressure, or angry. Simon can’t control what he needs to learn; however, he can control his attitude. If Simon could pretend for a moment that this were happening to someone else, then he may be able to see that he’s a competent employee who will become even more valuable after he’s learned what he needs.

Do you ever feel under pressure to learn at work? What behaviours work effectively for you?

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