Before I can proceed with a critical evaluation of my skills development, it is imperative I reflect on and determine my predominant learning style. I have used Kolb’s et al (1984) Learning Style Inventory (LSI) theory and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) theory (1998) in order to evaluate my learning styles and abilities. ‘Appendix 1’ illustrates my results of these self-completion tests.
Kolb’s learning style model is illustrated in ‘Appendix 2’ The LSI is simply an indication to how I view myself as a learner (Kolb et al, 1984). The inventory showed I have a main orientation towards Active Experimentation (AE), illustrated in ‘Appendix 3 ‘. The characteristics of this style suggest I focus on influencing people, am good at getting tasks accomplished and that I value having an impact and influence on the environment. The combination scores from this inventory describe my learning style more accurately since everybody’s style is a combination of the four learning modes (Kolb et al, 1984). These scores, shown in the grid in ‘Appendix 4’, suggest I have an Accommodative learning style that emphasises AE and Concrete Experience (CE). The greatest strength of this style is explained by Kolb et al (1984) in that it involves ‘doing things’ by seeking involvement in new experiences and being adaptable to changing situations. Kolb et al (1984) mentions those with this style are found in action-oriented jobs usually in marketing. This is encouraging as (degree) is my chosen programme of study.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator has also been used for assessing individual differences and determining learning style (Sirmans, 1992). The results for my MPTI complement the LSI scores. As two of the four scores in this inventory were rather close, as shown in ‘Appendix 1’, it suggested I am predominantly two personality types both in the Extrovert category. The ESTJ sensing type proposes I quickly move to implement decisions, like to organise projects and people and am forceful in implementing plans. The close scores also suggest I could be type ENTP in that I am alert and outspoken, resourceful in solving challenging problems and good at reading other people.
I am in agreement with the results of both inventories in that I am more a ‘doing’, action-oriented learner rather than say a ‘thinking’ or ‘observing’ learner. The fact both the tests showing similar aspects and characteristics of my learning style implies it is accurate.
Kolb et al (1984) highlights that we all develop a learning style that has strengths and weaknesses, and stresses learning modes may change time to time and in different situations. For me this is evident in ‘Appendix 3’ where my orientation scores towards CE and Abstract Conceptualisation (AC) were reasonably high. This suggests I do not dismiss the more thinking, logical approaches completely and that I am prepared to adopt other learning styles, which is evident in my skill development evaluation futher on in the journal. It is true I have a preference. The assumption is that we our most efficient as learners when information arriving is aligned with the way we want to receive it (Delahoussaye, 2002). But Delahoussaye (2002) cites Kolb in an interview where he says so much of what is involved in effective learning would be absent if one was taught by only one style. I and all students are exposed to increasingly difficult material and complex situations in education (Salter et al, 2006) which gives reason for adopting different learning styles.
It is necessary to critique Kolb’s theory as the results of these tests may have implications for evaluating how and where I am learning. Other authors (Garner, 2000; Delahoussaye, 2002; Salter et al, 2006) as well as Kolb et al (1984) recognise LSI is not one hundred percent accurate. Garner (2000) in particular is critical saying the lack of theoretical vigour leaves his theory open to serious criticism and highlights the poor reliability of the LSI measure in previous studies. Salter et al (2006) also question reliability emphasising measuring LSI and MBTI relies on a certain level of self awareness. However, all studies have strongly highlighted the usefulness of Kolb’s learning theory with respect to individual development (Garner, 2000) and it has been used extensively in student practice (Salter et al, 2006)
I have unknowingly adopted Kolb’s Learning Cycle theory, illustrated in a simple form in ‘Appendix 5’, throughout my development where I have taken action to improve my skills when I have released any weaknesses. The learning cycle is continuously recurring and concepts are constantly modified by experience (Kolb, 1984).
The skills I have chosen to evaluate are those that I consider to be of great value and importance in my chosen career upon graduation of university. My second year at university in particular has been a period where I have developed essential skills and realised which skills have required most improvement. I will be evaluating my skills development in relation to my individual learning style and will use theory to evaluate my strengths and weaknesses. I will also be applying learning theory present in my development in relation to approaching the assessment period.
1) Teamwork skills and My Comfort Zone
During my gap year prior to starting university I ventured on an Outward Bound Teamwork and Leadership Development course. The two weeks presented me with situations and challenges that can be encountered in the work place environment. I performed in group dynamic activities as well as other activities such as rock climbing, canoeing, navigation training and I ventured on a Mountain Expedition. The course gave me the opportunity to develop certain skills by placing me in situations where I needed to display resourcefulness and personal commitment.
A personal report from my instructor and my experiences from the course provided me with an insight of my strengths and where I needed to improve. Throughout the course my team working skills were excellent. My generous and tolerant manner made me an influential team member, particularly when our team was in the early stages of development. This can be applied to Greiner’s (1998) modified version of Tuckman’s (1965) Stages of Team Development model, illustrated in ‘Appendix 7’, where Greiner reversed the ‘Storming’ and ‘Norming’ stages. Using this example in the model, I was particularly effective in the ‘Forming’ and ‘Norming’ stages where relationships between team members needed to be established and members needed to appreciate and support each other.
To critically analyse my teamwork skills is greater detail, I completed a Belbin (1993) Self-Perception Team Role Profile during the course and did it again two years later in my second year of university, which gave me the opportunity to compare my results. The results and team role descriptions are shown in ‘Appendix 6’. The two results were interesting as they were rather dissimilar. My first attempt predominantly characterised me as a Co-ordinator. My second attempt, however, described me more as a Teamworker and a Plant. This difference could show my development regarding teamwork throughout university, in that I have become less manipulative or delegating and a more involved team player and problem solver. However, the validity of Belbin’s profiles has been examined by Fisher et al (2001) where they cite an authors view that team members allow themselves to move between roles with the principle of raising team effectiveness (McCrimmon, 1995). This could suggest I am flexible regarding team roles and also explains why my two results differ.
What I failed to do and learned during this course was to push myself further when I was faced with challenging situations. This would be necessary if I wanted to progress and improve my skills in the future. For example, during the rock climbing activity I felt unwilling to climb higher due to my slight fear of heights. To combat this, I became aware of the Comfort Zone theory, illustrated in ‘Appendix 8’, during a discussion with my instructor. White (2003) explanation of this theory shows I will learn most effectively and expand my comfort zone, Zone A, when I push myself into Zone B, otherwise described as the Optimum Learning Zone or Discomfort Zone, where I am “unwilling but able to carry out the task” (2003: p.11). This enhanced my understanding and knowledge of my progression in future skill development. I tried to incorporate this concept by having a more determined attitude and attempting more activities, such as abseiling, where I felt slightly uncomfortable or afraid. I still use this theory today to monitor and assess how I can improve certain skills. In appliance to the assessment period, I was more determined and aimed to revise more difficult, challenging areas of subjects first.
2) Self Discipline & Communication skills
Throughout my gap year, I took on a more prominent role in coaching children and teenagers at my local (sport) club and was training daily in preparation for competing in the summer. Since I have been a teenager, I have trained regularly for (sport) with friends and individually. This has had a huge impact on my development. Particularly during my gap year, training daily was personally both physically and mentally challenging and required considerable dedication. At times, I made sacrifices to remain committed to the training schedules assigned to me by my coach, which sometimes meant training early on a Sunday morning at the expensive of socialising with friends on a Saturday evening.
Through doing this I have developed exceptional self-discipline which has become a great strength of mine. My (sport) has taught me how to remain focused, committed and dedicated to tasks. I apply this self-discipline to my degree work in that I work hard and apply a good effort in order to achieve my goals. This is related to the Achievement Goal Theory highlighted by Hutchinson and Mercier (2004). The theory assumes student behaviour is intentional and goal related (Hutchinson and Mercier, 2004). I am applicable for the task-orientation perspective of this theory in that I focus on personal improvement by setting myself ambitious but realistic goals. I have always found having something to aim for helps me remain motivated. I still train as often as possible with my degree work taking priority. In the assessment period, I used this theory by setting myself specific goals and deadlines in revising certain areas to raise my motivation. The goal to achieve good marks in the exams is motivation in itself.
However, when I was coaching children or teenagers, my communication skills were insufficient. Generally these skills are strong areas of mine, but I was inexperienced in coaching younger age groups and found it difficult to guide them and teach them effectively. This form of communication can be identified as ‘supportive communication’ which aims to preserve good relationships while still addressing a problem (Cameron and Whetten, 2005). I learnt that improving my supportive communication would allow me to provide negative feedback more effectively. I tried to incorporate this concept into my coaching style and improved it further by attending a two-day coaching course to become a qualified coach. I learned how to break up a task or skill into separate parts in order to teach it more effectively. I also applied this concept in the assessment period. When I was preparing my revision, I broke up the modules into separate topics so it was clearer what I needed to focus on.
3) Social Skills & Self Confidence
From the beginning of semester one I showed great commitment to the university (sport) team attending training regularly and being available for team selection for matches. With a large influx of new players following the arrival of new first years, it was important we all got to know each other to make team bonding easier.
I demonstrated good interpersonal and social skills during this period where my gregarious manner helped me mix well with the new players; I was very supportive to those who needed encouragement and made considerable effort to become acquainted with those who I had not met. My social skills have improved dramatically over the years and are now one of my main strengths. Over the years, I have learned and developed valuable life skills through playing sport. Sport has taught me of the value of teamwork, communication, support and how to cope in high pressured situations, all of which can be applied to the workplace environment. The ability to get along with people can have large influence on career success (Utay and Utay, 2005). Sport has also given me the opportunity to meet and learn from people from different backgrounds to me. We can apply this to the Social Learning Theory, which suggests most human behaviour is learned observationally from others (Bandura, 1976). Although, the main criticism of this theory is that it rejects the genetic differences of individuals (Jeffery, 1985) so I may act in a certain way due genes I have inherited. Nevertheless, in this case I have learnt and perfected skills through interacting with others.
In sports that I am highly skilled in, (sport) in particular, I have plenty of self-confidence. However, in (other sport) this is not the case. Although I recognise I have a decent skill level in this sport, I realised during the first game of the season my self-confidence was lower than it should be and that this was hindering my performance in certain situations. Short and Sullivan state “Self-confidence reflects an individual’s judgement or perception of his or her capabilities and effort” (2003: p. 45). It was imperative that I have more self-confidence in my own abilities in future unfamiliar situations and tasks, especially during new jobs during my career.
I incorporated techniques to build my self-confidence similar to those suggested by Eales-White (2003). I created affirmative statements by reminding myself of my main strengths and what Ealers-White refers to as ‘building a ring of confidence’. This involves recalling and visualising all positive emotions I have had on previous occasions, so I did not worry and foresee myself making mistakes. I also performed extra training to improve my (sport) skills to become more confident in game situations. This further complements my preferred learning style in that I learnt enormously through being part of sport based experiences. With reference to the assessment period, I used these techniques to give me more confidence prior to the exams so I avoided feeling nervous about the thought of performing badly.
4) Time Management, Stress Management and Essay Writing skills
As the first semester progressed in the second year, the assignments for my degree and the work in general became more demanding particularly during October and November, as expected. I also had substantial sport commitments with the university (sport) team during this time having to attend training (number) nights a week with a match on Wednesdays. With the pressures in my degree to achieve good results and to continue playing my sport, I had to adapt my lifestyle to cope and manage my time efficiently and effectively.
During this period, my time and stress management was exceptional in countering stressors. Cameron and Whetten have define stressors as “stimuli that cause physiological and psychological reactions in individuals” (2005, p.654). Cameron and Whetten (2005) identify four main sources of stress: Time, Situational, Encounter and Anticipatory stressors. In this example and in general, time stressors, such as work overload and lack of control, are usually the more prominent source of stress for me. However, I counter these stressors by having good time management. I effectively manage my time using a planner, generating to-do lists and efficiently use my time by reading selectively, prioritising tasks and setting personal deadlines. These are all methods put forward by Cameron and Whetten (2005) in their ’20 Rules for everyone’.
Despite having a high workload accompanied with sport commitments and making time in the evenings for socialising, I still make time and sometimes sacrifice doing certain jobs or activities to spend time on more important tasks. If this is applied to Lewin’s (1997) Stress Force Field diagram which is illustrated in ‘Appendix 9’, the strength of the time stressor Driving Force ‘D’ upon me is matched by the Restraining Force ‘D’ which is good time management. Time management could be known as a proactive strategy to combat stress in the long-term. Doing exercise regularly and having a balanced diet are other proactive strategies that help my combat any Encounter or Anticipatory stressors. Kilpatrick et al (2005) say physical activity improves health and helps reduce stress levels. By having effective time management, I have ensured that I had sufficient time to revise everything I needed to for the exams. I also made time to do exercise during this period to avoid becoming stressed and used exercise as an incentive and a personal reward for doing revision to keep myself motivated.
Although this is good, I was reminded during this time what I needed to improve. I realised at the end of my first year and whilst doing two individual assignments in this semester that my essay and report writing skills were currently not sufficient to attain higher marks in the 70% region. From reading mark schemes and acknowledging feedback, I realised I had to be more critical and evaluative to support any arguments or points I made in order to improve my marks.
To improve on this, I considered Blooms Taxonomy of Learning which is illustrated in ‘Appendix 10’. The taxonomy scheme is used for classifying educational goals, objectives and most recently standards (Krathwhol, 2002). Anderson and Sosniak (1994) have highlighted researcher’s criticisms focused on the distinctions made between the categories and empirical evidence questioning the hierarchical order of the taxonomy levels. However, it is a framework that has been widely adopted and adapted for many decades and has been improved following a review by Krathwhol (2002). I tried to incorporate elements of the ‘Evaluation & Judgement’ component into my work by conducting more thorough research from books and electronic journals to obtain a variety of perspectives.
In terms of stress management, I learned best from doing and having to manage my time which compliments my learning style. However, the fact I improved my essay writing and evaluative skills through theory proves I am prepared to adopt a different learning style. With regards to the assessment period, I used Bloom’s Taxonomy Evaluation & judgement component in my revision to ensure I was being evaluative and critical when I wrote answers to questions, which is required to achieve high marks.
5) Organisational Skills and Presentation Skills
The skills I have analysed are all of great significance, but presentation skills are arguably the most important. Presentations are increasingly important in today’s business environment and these skills are highly valued by prospective employers (Lecture notes, 3/11/05). In a seminar, I had to give a five minute oral presentation on myself in an exercise designed to practice the skill of selling myself to an employee with emphasis on my personal skills and strengths. It was also in preparation for an assessed group assignment presentation a couple weeks later.
Prior to both the personal and group presentations, I demonstrated good organisational and preparation skills. My organisational skills have had to improve during my second year at university as there is a considerably higher workload compared to the previous year. I now prepare appropriately for assignments and tasks by researching into relevant material and beginning assignments as soon as possible to give myself more time to complete them. I made sure I had the necessary information sources at my disposal to expand on my revision during the assessment period with plenty of time before the exams.
However, while I appeared and delivered my personal presentation with confidence, feedback from my tutor informed me that my presentation skills could be improved in order to have a more positive impact on the audience. I found it difficult to give emphasis to main points that I wanted to say. For example, I spoke too quickly and I had limited body language. I can apply this to Yate and Sander’s (2003) Ten Steps to Building an Effective Presentation model illustrated in ‘Appendix 11’. If I apply this model to myself I am good at steps 1-9 but I failed perform step 10 to practice the presentation prior to performing it. ‘Appendix 12’ also shows the 5 S’s Approach to an Effective Presentation (Lecture notes 3/11/05). There is no widely agreed model or theory for designing an effective presentation but most authors emphasise preparation and rehearsal is essential.
I learned that improving these skills will also help improve my persuasive skills. In some presentations, the aim is to present an argument effective persuade the audience to agree with you (Yate and Sander, 2003). To improve my performance in the group presentation, I incorporated the later stages of both the presentation models by rehearsing in front of a mirror and to friends. Siddons (1999) suggests doing this enables one to calculate the actual duration of a presentation and to experiment with particular words and phrases. The group presentation gave me the opportunity to use techniques to make my presentation more effective. Having more eye contact with my audience, adopting an open posture and using hand gestures to emphasise certain words (Siddons, 1999; Hare, 1988) allowed me to communicate more with body language.
I had the opportunity to incorporate these techniques further and practice my persuasive skills when I ran for a position on the (committee) in semester two. I had to persuade a large audience to elect me for the position over the other candidates in a speech, in which I was successful. I found the more I have performed presentations in front of audiences, the better I have become at doing them. The fact I have learnt best by actively doing presentations further complements my LSI style.
6) Creative Problem Solving and Leadership
I began a group assignment in for the (degree) module in the beginning of semester two with four other students, in which we had to formulate and develop a (assignment) to promote a particular. Our group knew one another relatively well so establishing initial group cohesion was not a problem. Unlike some past group assignments, this was relatively interesting and enjoyable as the task was directly related to the career we all desired to pursue upon graduation of university.
When the group project was assigned, from the beginning I demonstrated good leadership qualities and communication skills in taking an active role of contacting the group members regularly, organising meetings and encouraging group discussions to start working for the project as soon as possible. In this group assignment and in previous group projects, I have always preferred to take a leading role as I am good at organising and coordinating people and tasks. This is supported by my MBTI and Belbin profiles. Although, Leadership has been described as only a temporary condition where certain skills and competencies are displayed (Quinn, 2004). I acknowledge I do not take a leading role in all situations I am involved in, for example in rugby. However, the leading role I have taken in group assignments can be applied to Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Theory (SLT) developed in the late 1960’s and has become widely accepted by companies (Grover et al, 2003). The theory revolves round the concept that leaders or managers use a style that fits the specific demands of the situation (Chen and Silverthorne, 2005). Using the diagram displayed in ‘Appendix 13’, for this example I have adopted the S3 or ‘participating’ collaborative style, where group members are apprehensive about proceeding but know how to do the tasks (Grover et al, 2003). However, the validity of this theory is still in question due to the lack of research support.
An integral part of this project was the need for creativity to devise original ideas, and creative thinking and problem solving were areas where I was struggling. My analytical problem solving was sufficient, but I realised if I was to pursue a future career in (career), my creative thinking needed improvement. Effective managers are those who solve problems both creatively and analytically (Cameron and Whetten, 2005).
Firstly, I considered Edward de Bono’s (1995) Six Metaphorical Hats theory. He agrees creativity does not have to be a group orientated. These six hats are described in ‘Appendix 10’ and I used this theory to specify a creative type of thinking, such as the ‘green’ hat. I then applied this to the approaches and techniques put forward by Alder (1994) which I learned during a seminar to stimulate my creative thinking. These included reversing statements, using metaphors to compare situations with pictures and stories, and looking at an issue in smaller chunks (Alder, 1994). I also experimented with Williams’ (2002) Feedback Focused Strategy where a group engages in brainstorming refrained from comments during discussion. Although Edward de Bono (1995) is critical of brainstorming activities, it was an exercise that helped my group to produce excellent ideas for our project and which has helped me become a better creative thinker. Using creative thinking theory in the assessment period, I made sure I analysed issues and topics in smaller chunks, considered issues from different perspectives and revised in peaceful environments, such as in the library or even outside.
It is evident throughout my development I have undertaken what is described in Argyris and Schon’s model as double-loop learning. This is shown in ‘Appendix 15’. Brown (2005) refers to this model explaining that learning involves detection and correction following the actual outcome and enables us to respond to change. In reference to ‘Appendix 15’ from experiencing situations during the year and in events prior to university, I have evaluated the actual outcomes against my desired outcomes. After recognising gaps in some of my skills, I have incorporated different theories and methods in order to improve certain skills. I preferred Accommodative learning style is evident throughout my development whilst I also adopted different learning styles in order to learn effectively in particular situations.
I approach the summer vacation with the aim or improving my negotiation skills with the intention of obtaining relevant work experience that will help my achieve this goal.
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