Interview with Jon Gilbert, Communication Skills Instructor

May 17, 2022

Jon Gilbert is the creator and instructor of CGX’s Communication Skills Courses for CTPs (Clinical Trial Professionals) to Communicate Effectively, Write Expressively, Present Fearlessly and Influence Convincingly in English.

With a Computer Science degree and starting his career as a P.E. and Maths teacher in the UK, Jon then emigrated to Canada as an IT Programmer/Analyst, Consultant and Project Manager, also undertaking projects in the USA, Australia, Nepal and Papua New Guinea, and travelling extensively around the world.

Returning briefly to the UK, he obtained a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Language) certificate which took him to Japan where, subsequently, he became involved with Business English Communication Skills training, before bringing his Japanese wife and Tokyo-born son back to the UK.

Since then, Jon has conducted training as an employee of various organisations, including CIPD (Charted Institute of Professional Development, from which our delegates achieve accreditation upon completing their CGX course), Rosetta Stone Language Learning Software and Wolters Kluwer Medical Research.

As a freelance Trainer/Teacher, he now focuses on Communication Skills, Business English and TESOL, as well as Cross-Cultural Awareness for global enterprises and their staff.

With his illustrious career and wealth of experience, he is a master trainer and expert in cross-cultural sensitivity. He explains why Communication Skills are crucial for Clinical Trial Professionals, no matter their level, role and ability.

How did you become involved in Clinical Trials training?

My introduction to the world of Clinical Trials occurred quite recently whilst working as a Communication Skills Training Delivery Consultant for a global CRO (Contract Research Organisation) conducting clinical trials using English as the common language across all countries, despite English not being the first language of many CTPs.

This 2-year project took me to their offices in the UK, France, Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia, Bulgaria, Serbia, USA, Argentina and Russia.

This enabled me to observe and realise the importance of learning to communicate, interact and work effectively with colleagues and clients from different cultures, with a range of roles and seniority, and how you can incorporate that into your work as a CTP.

So, how did you meet Lia Hunter, CGX’s Director & Founder?

Our sons were in the same sixth form class, and Lia was giving a presentation to students and parents on working in the clinical trials industry. She asked if anyone knew what a CRO was, expecting no one to raise their hand.

When mine went up she was astonished that someone actually had the answer! We had a long talk afterwards and I told her about my experience in Communications Skills training for a CRO, and we decided to create these CGX Courses for CTPs.

Why are soft skills such as effective written and verbal communication critical, not just for CTPs, but the overall success of each clinical trial?

They eliminate misunderstandings and convey your ideas using clear and simple English which everyone can understand, especially if you are dealing with a CRA (Clinical Research Associate), administrator or project manager on the other side of the world if English is not your and/or their native tongue, regardless of their role or seniority.

Frequent breakdowns in global communications across companies are not solely due to spoken language problems, but could be caused by your tone and intonation, complicated email messages, listening difficulties and failing to confirm what you have heard, or tiny details such as addressing a person with their incorrect title or even the wrong gender.

For example, if you tell someone a telephone number and they write it down incorrectly, how can you even ensure that subsequent results and data are interpreted accurately?

It’s easy to make mistakes in clinical trials where the stakes are high, whilst adhering to tight budget and time constraints. Failure to understand communications and respond appropriately will slow down the trials. That’s why CGX’s Communication Skills Courses for CTPs are vitally important to master those crucial and often-overlooked fundamentals.

Why is cross-cultural sensitivity and awareness particularly important in the clinical trials sector?

People around the globe have differing priorities, values, beliefs and ways of doing things, so you have to allow for that. For example, if I ask someone in Germany or Argentina to send me the results as soon as possible, their cultural relationship with time will probably lead to an immediate response from the Germans, while the Argentinians may not see it as urgent and wait for a while, until mañana (tomorrow or later).

Working with hospitals and labs, you are also likely to encounter a range of nationalities, so you can appreciate why that cross-cultural sensitivity and understanding is so important for your career in clinical research.

Why is it important to keep developing effective communication skills?

Regardless of your age, experience, position, seniority or stage in your career, it’s easy to forget and neglect those skills, how you influence people or prepare sufficiently for a future presentation.

Even at the top of your profession, you may not realise how boring, demanding, unclear, confusing or overwhelming your verbal or written information sharing might be, not only to CTPs, but also to clients, suppliers, technicians and administrators for whom you may need to adapt your communication style to achieve the results you desire.

These courses will enable you to reflect on and improve those communication skills and you’ll become a better CTP for it.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Be open to opportunities and don’t think you have to stick to a certain route forever. Sometimes things happen and you’re simply in the right place at the right time.

Jon Gilbert and the CGX team are passionate about and committed to training the next generation of clinical trial practitioners. Whether you’re graduating from school or university, you’ve been in the field for years, you’re considering changing careers, or you just want to find out more about clinical trial career pathways, we’re ready to help you on your journey.

Contact us today to find out more about our in-person and online courses, training solutions and consultation services.

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