Bullying and harassment training: the problems
Interactive drama has proved to be an effective means of training to reduce the incidence of bullying and harassment in the workplace. At Nelson Training we were approached by a county fire service as an industrial tribunal had mandated that all staff members receive bullying and harassment training. Fire services are predominantly male organisations and there is a strong banter culture. Many organisations such as the fire, police and armed services have a banter culture and many people working in these organisations are unclear where the border line between banter and harassment starts.
Training people in any aspect of bullying and harassment is difficult. Many people who work in uniformed organisations are unhappy with sitting in a training room for a few hours. They are unlikely to respond favourably to an extended PowerPoint session. In addition, when training a subject such as bullying and harassment, there are additional difficulties in that people do not believe it applies to them personally (even if it does!) and they also resent being ‘sent’.
We have found another problem with bullying and harassment training, from our experience of this training at NHS trusts, in that many managers are unclear as to where the line should be drawn between acceptable strong performance management and bullying behaviour. Many people came into the NHS as members of the medical profession and now find themselves in a supervisory management position having received no training in managing people.
Victims of bullying or harassment also frequently flounder in deciding how to deal with the situation, with the result that many cases end up following a formal route that could have been avoided had they only known how the situation could be resolved informally.
For outline programmes on managing bullying and harassment use this page link.
Using interactive drama in bullying and harassment training
We have successfully applied interactive drama based training in both the fire service and NHS programmes. We have found that resistance to the training can be overcome through the use of ‘invisible theatre’ at the start of the session. Invisible theatre involves the use of actors as ‘plants’ amongst the delegates. As these were organisation wide training programmes it was easy to achieve this as only a few delegates actually know each other and similarly uniformed personnel do not arouse suspicion. In the case of the fire service we had two delegates dressed as fire fighters having a conversation in which one ‘delegate’ was negative about the whole training programme and brought out every negative opinion that most of the delegates had about the session. This ‘delegate’ was arguing about not staying for the rest of the session. The other ‘delegate’ answered each of the points in turn with the result that they both decide to stay for the session. We used an element of humour in this as this generally helps those attending realise at some point that these are actors.
Using actors to bring out negative views about the training has two valuable uses: firstly, it makes explicit and acknowledges that there is negativity and secondly, as this has now been expressed openly, negative delegates have no other points they can bring out during the session.
In the case of the NHS sessions we used three actors dressed as nurses and we took a more serious approach. One ‘nurse’ expressed that she was really busy and didn’t have time to go on the course as she’d never been bullied or had bullied anyone. A second ‘nurse’ expresses that the course is really important and that everyone needs to go on it. The first ‘nurse’ then asks the second if he could take notes for her if he’s staying, as she could do with using the time more productively. A third ‘nurse’ agrees with the first and asks the second ‘nurse’ if he could take notes for her as well as he’s so keen. They then leave the room, leaving the unfortunate keen ‘delegate’, who expresses reluctance to do this but feels browbeaten to agree. The scene is then disarmed by the facilitator, who informs the delegates that these are actors but they’ve just seen an example of the subject of the day.
The main training method for both training staff in how to raise a concern about bullying or harassment and for training managers in how to resolve bullying and harassment issues is forum theatre based on scenarios that we have researched prior to starting the training programme. Following discussions with the commissioners of the training, usually the HR or training and development departments, we ask for typical scenarios within the organisation where issues are occurring. These are then turned into interactive sketches. These are carefully checked for authenticity. When dealing with sensitive subjects such as this it is important that no delegate ever says ‘that wouldn’t happen here!’.
The sketch is acted out with delegates observing what takes place. We then bring back each of the characters in turn after the sketch has been observed and delegates have had a chance to think about the advice they would give. We may, for example bring back a manager who has observed bullying or harassing behaviour and advise them what actions they should take. We may bring back the victim to advise what options are open to them. In each case, the character brought back does not necessarily agree with the delegates’ advice and will argue and discuss the issues with the delegates. The facilitator can keep the delegates on track and can guide delegates towards for instance, the organisation’s policies and procedures.
The interactive theatre may stop at this point but often, as would be the case where the delegates have advised that, for example, a manager would have to have a difficult conversation with a member of staff, we would see that conversation enacted. In this example, the manager would make a number of mistakes so that the delegates would have to stop the action and advise where the conversation should go. The scene ends when delegates have guided the conversation to a satisfactory conclusion.