update: how can I help a staff member get better at thinking on her feet?

Remember the letter-writer seeking ways to help a staff member get better at thinking on her feet because she was freezing up with customers when they asked questions that she didn’t know how to answer (#2 at the link)? Here’s the update.

As you likely remember, my charge was having trouble thinking on her feet when on the phone on account of paralyzing anxiety. The suggested advice from you as well as the readership was mainly: role-play and shadowing. This was a solution that I was already implementing, but I really put an emphasis on it following your feedback.

And … it worked!

I started each day with a briefing on what we would be working on, then a hypothetical scenario to identify a scenario that she hadn’t encountered before. It was a little rough at first, but as time passed, she felt more comfortable improvising with me, which led to more comfort and improvisation on the phone. About two weeks later, her shoulders dropped out of her ears, and she started to be more relaxed when working with customers.

It’s been 6 months or so, and she’s really grown into the role.

The role-play sessions provided structure for her to solve the types of problems she’d see on the calls in her own way, but I think that they also served as a subconscious reinforcement that I was not there to judge/reprimand that she wasn’t coming along as quickly as I’d hoped and that I was interested in pitching in to help her grow. The two of those in combination put her more at ease to tackle the (admittedly difficult) beast that is coming into a new role and facing customers right away.

Of course, time and experience only served to augment her confidence — something that I don’t think should be discounted. The task was to help her be more comfortable as she grew into the role, though, and the role-play sessions did just that.

THANK YOU for your help!

{ 21 comments… read them below }

  1. YourUnfriendlyPhlebotomist*

    what a great update, can we nominate for best manager too? so much extra time and understanding when fire and rehire could have happened with much less effort. So, so great!

      1. neverjaunty*

        Indeed! So nice to see a manager who understands their role is to help train employees to do their best.

  2. LQ*

    This is a great update that didn’t end up with anyone quitting or getting fired or finding a job elsewhere. Just improvement! Totally warm fuzzies for this update!

  3. Stranger than fiction*

    This speaks volumes about you Op that you made that commitment to your employee and it paid off. By the way, I’m cracking up at “her shoulders dropped out of her ears”!

  4. Mimmy*

    Echoing everyone else’s sentiments. I know that not every employer feels they have time, patience, and/or resources to provide this level of support to a struggling employee. I was one of those employees in the job I had right after grad school back in 2007-2008 and would’ve really appreciated the help (though being at a non-profit providing individual & family services, confidentiality concerns probably greatly limited those options).

    Anyway, kudos to you OP!!

  5. Eva*

    I think that they also served as a subconscious reinforcement that I was not there to judge/reprimand that she wasn’t coming along as quickly as I’d hoped and that I was interested in pitching in to help her grow

    I love this! What an awesome way to approach things. Good on you op!

  6. Rocket Scientist*

    GREAT update.

    You sound like a rare and fantastic manager to put in this time and effort with your staff.

  7. Ife*

    I’m so glad it worked out, OP! As one of those people who has trouble thinking on their feet, I really appreciate that you took the time to help your employee rather than letting her flounder and assuming she’d pick up on it eventually. Thank you thank you thank you :)

  8. Not So NewReader*

    Yea, OP! You won and she won.
    Hopefully, she will be able to help in some way to train the next new hire and that will make her circle complete.

  9. OP*

    Oh geez, y’all are far too kind. Thank you for the kind words, but I don’t really think I did anything particularly special; I’d hope this kind of thing would be the standard practice as opposed to the exception.

    I guess all I can say is pay it forward! Thanks again for the love!

  10. Hornswoggler*

    That employee will be grateful to you for the rest of her life.

    Seriously, what you’re doing will have a positive impact on all areas of her life. It’s worth taking a moment to reflect how good management and training can ripple out to so many people and situations.

  11. Jane Gloriana Villanueva*

    I just want to add my kudos given that in the original message, OP mentioned s/he is not this employee’s explicit manager. It’s extra special to see someone adapt to a new coworker by assuming a role such as trainer and not being threatened by new employee’s successes or setbacks. It’s a tremendous learning experience for both of you. The new employee has obviously grown into the role, but congrats, OP, for identifying this need and putting a plan into practice to address the problem positively! Your workplace is lucky to have both of you.

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