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What is "Confianza" and Why is it Important?
Anthony Griffin

What is Confinanza and Why is it Important?

Tried-and-true training methods can fail in a multi-cultural, multi-lingual environment, and can leave an unprepared trainer wondering what to do. In this article I share what I learned while leading a 24-hour team-building intervention, in Spanish, with a group of 20 managers, supervisors, and journeyman production employees of the largest truck body manufacturing company in the western United States.

The client needed help coping with a rapid growth, customer demand for better quality, and employee resistance to changes necessary to meet customer needs.

From the start many of hourly workers expressed reluctance to “intrude” on the decision-making responsibilities of their bosses a common feature of work relationships in Latin American cultures. Decision-making and problem solving are perceived as management roles, and sharing power and authority was commonly seen by most participants as a sign of weakness, and therefore undesirable.

There were differences in cultural values and assumptions relating to such issues as: how time at work should be used, how power and authority should be exercised, how day-to-day relationships between peers should be carried out, the appropriate exercise of discipline, perceptions about the formal and informal reward systems, how much participation in decision-making and problem-solving is appropriate and desirable for hourly employees, etc.

Only four of the participants spoke English as their first language. The rest were native Spanish-speakers of Mexican ancestry. About 20 percent of them experienced difficulty in reading and writing Spanish.

This team was charged with learning new skills to apply and also to teach to these new skills to other employees.

Confianza and Other Lessons Learned

I had to adjust to the language requirements and the difference in culture in order to make the training effective. These adjustments can be grouped under the following headings:

Build Trust
The Spanish word “confianza” can be loosely translated as “trust.” Velasquez New Revised Spanish-English Dictionary (1974) also translates this word as “honest boldness, assurance, firmness of opinion,” as well as describing a relationship that permits a certain secretiveness and privacy. Confianza shapes working and organizational relationships, and extends to the training arena: if confianza is not felt mutually between trainees and instructor, the trainees will “shut down,” and learning will dramatically suffer.

The usual repertoire of training tools to elicit participation and involvement will likely fail when confianza is not present. This is particularly relevant for interpersonal communications skills training where such concepts and skills as providing relevant feedback, active listening, and self-disclosure are not only highly valued as elements of training design and delivery, but indeed are deemed by most training practitioners as fundamental to this type of training.

The instructor should avoid behaviors that participants may interpret as confrontational. Many Hispanics see confrontation as negative and potentially destructive it is likely to be viewed as a personal challenge and an exercise of power and dominance. It does not have an “up” side.

Avoiding the appearance of confrontation requires the trainer to adopt a slower pace. It has been my experience that a typical “soft” skills training program is about 20 percent longer because of the need to build trust gradually and to avoid any appearance of forcing people to participate.

Stress Basic Skills
The training introduced skills such as active listening, conflict-resolution, and problem solving in teams. Instead of two or three practice sessions, I used as many as seven because of the language barrier and the need to illustrate how cultural values affect the application of the principles being taught.

Minimize Reading and Writing
Most participants struggled to understand the workbook that I provided. Written materials proved useful only as reinforcements, and not as introductions to concepts or exercises.

Formalize Discussion
Hispanics generally expect more formality in interpersonal relations compared to North Americans. Training presentations and other interventions must accommodate these differences in cultural views. This is best accomplished by: (1) orally acknowledging these differences (2) clarifying course objectives, and acknowledging the challenges that accompany the training.

Aim for Clarity
Give clear directions and confirm that they are understood. Avoid ambiguity when setting up classroom practice exercises, asking for participation in exercises, etc. This audience required that the objectives and methods for each exercise, each small group discussion, each training intervention, be discussed beforehand, and in more depth than would be required with a group of monolingual English-speaking participants.

Teach a Common “Vocabulary”
Participants had no shared sets of effective interpersonal skills that they could apply to working together. Cultural and language differences exacerbated this situation. Orders, requests, memoranda, and indeed virtually all other communications from management first had to be interpreted from English to Spanish and “filtered” down to the non-English-speaking employees on the shop floor, through bilingual supervisors and lad personnel. Inevitably, communication effectiveness suffered.

Practice-Practice-Practice
Use many real-life examples to make a point and teach a skill. In these circumstances, it was advisable to develop and use from manufacturing and production.

Reward Performance Immediately
Immediately reward participants who make honest efforts to learn. Because most participants were unsure of this training material, any trainee performance that approximated or that accurately reproduced the desired behavior was promptly rewarded by verbal prompts and specific expressions of approval. For example, when John, a Foreman, accurately demonstrated active listening with others in the group, I said to the group, “John, you really summarized Joes point very well. Thats a great example of using active listening.”

Mix It Up
Depending on audience readiness, mod, level of interest, and desires, I used both Spanish and English interchangeably during training sessions. For example, I wrote key points on the flipchart in English, and summarized them in Spanish. I conducted some role-play exercises in English, and others in Spanish.

Training Results

The training was prompted by a need to implement a lean manufacturing program. The effectiveness of the training is best measured after the lean program has been initiated. The important measure of the training is the success of the lean program.

Why only indirectly evaluate the training? Because, to draw causal relationships between this training and improved workplace behaviors, the effects and influence of the subsequent events would have to be eliminated, or considered. Given the present state of evaluation technology this does not seem possible now.

Written evaluations showed that about 80 percent of trainees acquired the targeted skills and knowledge in that training session. The client considered the training successful.


About the Author

Anthony Griffin is owner of Teamworks, a bilingual/bicultural performance improvement and human resource development practice reaching out to Hispanic workers. http://www.teamworks1.com


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