In “Good Boss, Bad Boss” Robert Sutton talks about a problem many of us see in our workplaces — too much talking and not enough doing. Sutton says too often people (this includes bosses and their subordinates) know what needs to be done but rather than doing it, they talk (hold endless meetings), write about it, and study it to death. Professor Sutton shares about a restaurant chain that hired a consulting firm to create a detailed plan to improve their operations. During the presentation, a long-time executive shared that a decade earlier, the company had received the same report. The executive then proceeded to read from the old report which had almost the same advice as the new one. The lesson: Management had known for quite some time what needed to be done, but they just didn’t do it.
For today’s post, I will use the PAR technique (Problem, Action, Results) also called STAR (Situation or Task, Action, Result) to share about my experiences living and working on an island in the North Pacific Ocean – an island called Saipan. This PAR method (I hope) will help you see how simple it is to not just talk about a problem, but to act to resolve it.
Yearning for adventure, excitement, and something different, I left Texas in January 2004 to live and work on an island in the North Pacific Ocean as a Behavior Specialist. My job covered 20 schools on the islands of Saipan (15 schools), Rota (3 schools), and Tinian (2 schools) totaling over 12,000 students. It included assessing at-risk and conduct/behavioral problem students, observing and conducting functional behavior assessments, designing appropriate behavior intervention plans, and assisting teachers and school staff in the proper implementation of the prescribed behavior program. On a daily basis, I provided consultations to school staff to train and assist in behavior and classroom management, positive behavior support, school crisis management, and traumatic stress & crisis intervention response.
Saipan, Rota, and Tinian (collectively called CNMI or Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) posed a particular challenge due to their geographical locations (eight hours west of Hawaii), their relatively young educational system (public education did not start until the mid 1940’s when the first public school, WSR Elementary, was established in 1946, with others soon following in the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s) and cultural values and norms.
There are more than 20 ethnicities and nationalities from East, West, as well as Pacific communities, including Chamorro, Carolinian, Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Bangladesh, Russian, Thai, Vietnamese, Micronesian (Yapese, Chuukese, Pohnepeian), Palauan, Hawaiian, Marshall Islands, American, Australian, and various European communities. Although the island (population 82,000) is considered Chamorro and Carolinian, more than half of the population is comprised of foreign “guest workers” employed in the garment and tourist industries. In fact, there are roughly 17,500 garment workers and laborers in the CNMI, most of whom are non-English speaking Chinese.
With the stigmas and misinformation surrounding mental health and mental illness, coupled with an educational system still in its infancy and an economy dependent on U.S. federal support, counseling services and school crisis management were at the bottom of the priority scale in the eyes of the cash-strapped government and local school system.
Being one to never back down from a challenge and understanding that (as my friend and coworker described) the CNMI was “fertile soil” to work in, I was able to set and attain two goals: (1) Being part of a six-member Counseling Steering Committee Team that successfully implemented a Monthly Level-Sharing program (CMLS) to train school counselors; and (2) Conducting 25 workshops and training over 700 teachers and school staff on Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® Training and Behavior & Classroom Management.
(1) I partnered with a team of counselors in the local school system and the local mental health agency to educate and train other counselors and to equip them with basic counseling and trauma response skills to address the psychological and emotional needs of students at school and other children and adolescents in the community.
(2) Together with a colleague, I wrote two grants, secured funding, and became a Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® Certified Instructor to educate and train teachers, administrators, and school staff on how to best manage anxious, hostile, and/or violent crisis situations in their classrooms and on their campuses.
The responses and feedback were phenomenal.
(1) Through our CNMI Counselors Monthly-Level Sharing Meetings/Trainings, we tackled difficult topics including child sexual abuse, suicide, and self-injurious behaviors. School counselors reported an increase in feelings of confidence and competence in addressing some of these issues in their schools.
(2) As a result of the Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® Workshops as well as trainings and presentations on classroom management and anti-bullying, over 700 educators, counselors, and administrators were trained on best-practices models in managing crisis and potentially volatile situations.
Here is an example of data from the Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training conducted at an elementary school (on Feb. 6-7, 2006), a high school (Apr. 1-2, 2006) and during two PSS Statewide Professional Developments (Feb. 8-10 & Aug. 17-18, 2006). Of those who attended the Statewide Professional Development workshop (on Aug. 17-18, 2006) and who responded to the workshop questionnaire on a scale of 1-5 (5 being very useful), 14 out of 14 (100%) said they “strongly agreed” that they had met the program objective to use nonverbal techniques to prevent acting-out behavior; 14 out of 14 (100%) said they “agreed” or “strongly agreed” they had met the program objective to use CPI’s Principles of Personal Safety to avoid injury to all involved in a crisis situation; 14 out of 14 (100%) said they “agreed” or “strongly agreed” they had met the program objective to use safe physical intervention procedures as a last resort when a person is a danger to self or others; All participants or 100% gave the overall Nonviolent Crisis Intervention Training program the highest approval rating of “5” (strongly agree). These figures reflect the overwhelmingly positive response to the Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® Training program.
WHAT I LEARNED – The Key Lessons
As with many important things which transcend the lessons and printed materials drawn from textbooks, what my job and interactions in the CNMI have taught me are the following:
(1) A collaborative spirit and attitude work best.
(2) Keep things simple, practical, and relevant in order to link talking to action.
(3) Everyone, from children to adults, from the under- to the over-educated has a story to share. Make time to listen to their stories.
(4) Don’t ever assume you know them, their problems, or traumas – you don’t.
(5) Above all else, treat everyone with kindness and respect because no one likes being talked down to.
Side note to #2: The older I get and the more “education” I receive, the more I realize that simple is often best and that the smartest, wisest people are those who ask questions rather than speak. There are also people who are impressed with what Robert Sutton calls “jargon monoxide” or gobbledygook, nonsense. They tend to talk more and do less, rather than the opposite – talk less and do more. In my own experience, I have discovered that people who have a tendency to spew out “jargon monoxide” are those trying to hide their own incompetence or those trying to impress others. It’s even funnier when these same people use big words to which they don’t know the meanings to. Sometimes, real life is much more entertaining than television.
Sutton, R.I. (2010). Good boss, bad boss: How to be the best… and learn from the worst. New York: Business Plus.
*This entry (in its entirety) is also cited as:
Nguyen, S. (2011). Less talk, more action—The PAR technique. Journal of Safe Management of Disruptive and Assaultive Behavior, 19(1), 14-16.