Kate Walker Miles, tutor at RADA Business provides insight into how rail workers can harness the power of improvisation to develop their communication and impact skills…

RADA Business, the commercial arm of world-renowned drama school RADA, is helping employees around the world to improve their ability to communicate effectively, by using improvisation skills to better think and perform in the moment. With 1.7 billion people travelling by train each year, rail staff interact with an extraordinary number of customers each day.
High pressure situations such as cancelled or delayed trains, or dealing with a difficult customer, can often hinder a staff member’s capacity to think on their feet and respond in the best way. Sometimes staff are faced with high levels of customer enquiries and complaints.
This makes it vital for rail workers to be able to respond resiliently and creatively to a wide range of circumstances. The ability to communicate flexibly and with clarity in these situations is imperative to managing customers’ negative experiences to try to keep everyone’s day and journey running smoothly.

Some interesting research, taken from our most recent report, Thinking on Your Feet, revealed that customers are quick to make judgements about organisations, with 88 per cent admitting that they make negative assumptions about an entire organisation as a result of poor staff behaviour.

Helping staff to feel relaxed in difficult, high-pressure situations allows them to think more clearly and therefore communicate more easily – leading to positive interactions with customers. The report data also shows that, when workers are relaxed, 42 per cent find that they are able think more quickly, 33 per cent find it easier to listen to what people are saying, and 31 per cent can adapt better to situations. Being relaxed also improved the way workers feel, with 41 per cent saying they feel more confident and 31 per cent saying it made them happier. It’s important for train lines to help staff to embrace improvisation skills, allowing them to respond to each challenge in the best way.

Currently, many rail staff are hampered by the pressure and stress of situations, with 86 per cent of employees acknowledging that stressful situations can compromise their ability to communicate effectively. This can result in a struggle for many to speak slowly (29 per cent) or think quickly (25 per cent) when they find themselves in a difficult position.

Fortunately, there are tried and tested techniques that are easy to learn – and when employed deliberately and consciously, can be very powerful tools. By building on the work of one of the world’s most respected drama schools, RADA Business tutors use powerful body, breath and voice techniques in their training programmes, which can help rail staff improve their ability to think on their feet.

Key techniques 

A simple way to start is by releasing any physical tension. Take a moment during your day to let any tense emotions drop out of the body, allowing yourself to feel calm and ready to respond appropriately to any situation. This can be done by literally shaking away the stress of the day, and then squeezing your shoulders up to you ears, holding it for a second and then releasing. You can then slowly turn your head to look over each shoulder, before dropping your chin to your chest until you feel a stretch in the back of your neck. Lift your head back up, open your mouth and then let your head fall back for a moment before floating it back into place. Complete the exercise by gently tilting the head towards each shoulder. Finally, breath out all the air in your lungs then let a fresh breath drop in through the mouth – great for calming the nervous system. Completing this physical routine during quiet moments in your day will help you to feel relaxed and calm, which in turn will lead you to be able to communicate with clarity and gravitas.

During interactions with a challenging customer, it can become hard to listen to what is actually being said. Try to stay engaged with the conversation and observe your own body language. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, feel the ground beneath you, keeping soft-knees. Having a strong base to operate from will empower you to listen and stand your ground. Take a moment before you reply to process what’s being asked of you and give yourself time to formulate a helpful answer. By doing this, you will enable yourself to respond accordingly with understanding and insight. Furthermore, the customer will feel reassured that you have really listened to them.

Before responding, think about your breath. Breathe slowly. Emptying your lungs and letting the fresh air fill your body, which will allow you to feel more prepared when you come to speak. This will also help with clearing the mind so that you can focus on your thoughts. Following this, remember to speak slowly and with clarity and try not to rush your response, instead speak with certainty, which will help to assert confidence and understanding to customers. It can also be helpful to remember that at some point we may have been that difficult customer, with a need that wasn’t met. You might be the one person who can meet their need and make their day.

Finally, it is important to use appropriate eye contact. Maintaining eye contact will help you to build a stronger relationship with the person you’re speaking to. By using these techniques, rail staff will feel more relaxed in difficult situations allowing them to think on their feet more effectively. This will help staff to understand what is being asked of them and formulate and deliver appropriate responses. Encouraging employees to use these techniques will improve both staff and customer experiences, resulting in a positive impact on the public’s opinion of any organisation.

To learn more about RADA Business, including courses, coaching and consultancy for staff at different stages of their career, please visit radabusiness.com.

About RADA Business

RADA Business helps people at work become brilliant communicators. We build on the work of one of the world’s most respected drama schools to deliver world-class training programmes and coaching for organisations and individuals. Everything we do is grounded in an understanding of business – and the varied needs of people within organisations. Whether you’re leading a company, managing teams or taking the first steps in your career, we can help you deliver your very best performance.

Since 2001 we’ve worked with some of the world’s best-known employers in more than 30 countries, including law firms, retailers, media companies, universities and governments.

We’re convinced that organisations work most effectively when everyone has a voice – and we’re committed to giving people the skills to get themselves heard. All our profits support the activities of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, helping to develop the next generation of actors and technicians.