Saturday, June 16, 2007

What People Want

by Tory Butterworth

So, I have a new job. I'm back in community mental health, but one step up. Now I'm training employees in mental health, rather than working the front lines. I’m excited to be there.

My first task is to come up with the mental health training calendar for 2008. My boss gave me a list of people to contact, to ask about their training needs. As far as I'm concerned, bopping in on meetings I'll never have to go to again and chatting with people I don't know is the fun part. I feel like an anthropologist in a strange land. Where do they come from? What are their customs? What are their beefs?

Of course, at some point the fun exploration stops and the real work begins. In my case, that means coming up with titles and descriptions of trainings employees will want to come to, and then conducting them.

One of the Training and Development department's biggest beefs is that employees ask for certain classes, and then don't register. They've checked out the best days and times. Still, no interest. I can't say I have any crystal ball into this phenomenon, but it does make me wonder about asking people, "What trainings do you want for 2008?" Do people know what they want?

As a psychotherapist in private practice, I have to give clients what they want or they don't return. In therapy we ask, "What brought you here?" That's called the presenting problem. For ongoing complaints we ask, "Why now?" That's called the precipitating event. One supervisor of mine suggested that if you give the client what they want, you often have some room left over to help them with something they need, but haven't yet recognized. That's called diplomacy.

My favorite inspirational speaker, Marianne Williamson, suggests that the most boring question you can ask in bed is, "What turns you on?" She believes the real answer is, "Surprise me!" I'm not sure that's true even in bed, but is it true other places?

Most novelists I know don't go around and ask people, "What do you want to read?" (or, "What turns you on?" for that matter.) An idea comes to them, and they try to mold it into something people will like. Sounds to me a lot like therapist diplomacy.

What about picking out a novel in a bookstore? Do you know what you want? Or do you like to be surprised?

I'll let you know over the next few months how my efforts go at figuring out what trainings employees want, and whether they like to be surprised. In the meantime, in terms of books, do you know what you want?


Joyce Tremel said...

Nice post, Tory!

I find it interesting that in fiction writing, we also use the terms "presenting problem" and "precipitating event." Maybe fiction is a form of psychotherapy!

Your job sounds like it's a perfect fit for you. If you find a solution for getting people to come to scheduled classes or events, let me know.

As for your question, I know exactly what I want when I pick up a novel. (That's one reason I turned to writing. I couldn't find what I wanted on the shelves.)

I want a strong protagonist, an interesting, unique or heinous crime, a good supporting cast--no cardboard cutout characters, and a believable plot. I don't think that's too much to ask for, but I've picked up way too many books that don't deliver. I used to finish reading them anyway, but now I just grumble and donate them to the library.

Anonymous said...

As I write a story, I'm constantly asking myself, "How can I surprise my reader on this page? Either by an event or some cleverness of language, surprsingly the reader--keeping her entertained--is my goal. But as for interacting with realy people that way? Uh---it gets me into trouble. Great blog, Tory. Good insight into your work!

Anonymous said...

Glad you're enjoying your new job, Tory. As far as getting the employees to come, have you thought of door prizes? Better yet, how about tarot readings?

The novels I most enjoy reading include an interesting setting, fascinating characters, and a puzzle that engages. I'm not that big on crime (please don't hurt me).

Anonymous said...

Nancy: sort of a contradiction in terms, isn't it, trying to surprise people every time? Maybe that's why Joyce's "unique crime" is so hard to come by.

Cathy: You may be on to something, about the door prizes. What's more surprising than that? About the Tarot readings, I think I'll keep that in my after-hours bag of tricks when working for a Catholic-based organization. (Which, I have to admit, is quite a bit more open than certain Jewish-based organizations I've worked for in the past.)

Anonymous said...

In my experience, one big impediment to attending trainings is that people are too busy trying to get their jobs done to take the time, even if they want to go. And those last minute emergencies all seem to pop up right around the time of the training you wanted to go to, not to meantion looming deadlines. Training loses out because it is seen as less necessary and more frivolous than doing the real work.

Anonymous said...


I think you should come up with compelling topics and just schedule the sessions. Also, at the first one, do something remarkable so that people show up because they are afraid to miss something. Mind games, Tory, mind games! Good luck with your new job. You'll be great.

Anonymous said...

Brenda: Maybe I could strip? (Just kidding.) Actually, I was thinking about showing a brief clip of a movie that's relevant to the topic at the beginning of each training. We'll see if I can manage the technical aspects of it.

Anonymous said...

Gina: you may be on to something. Residential staff have to reserve the time with the supervisor ahead of time, and sort of get "time off" from their routine work while in training. Maybe it's the managers who have a hard time making it to trainings?