Learning, and the importance of personal relevancy

“See them first” is a phrase I learned several years ago from an incredible, kind, mentor of mine.

I admit, when she first shared this phrase with me, (and others, in her book) I didn’t really understand how to put it into practice when facilitating or designing an experience for others.

To her (and now, to me) “See them First” is a critical piece of gaining psychological safety, trust, and clarity with a group or an individual up front, whether it’s in a coaching, training, or leadership capacity.

So what does this phrase mean? Do I just need stronger contact lenses? Perhaps. Ask your doctor. But also:

At the core of it, I need to ask myself these questions:

  1. Do I, as a Leader, a facilitator, or a coach understand my learner? Have I made this understanding clear to them?
  2. Have they given me an opportunity to share something that matters to them? Read: Have they shared a learning objective, or told me something that I’m missing knowing about them at the start of a session? When a professor who was absent for the first day of a 2-day workshop walked into the class she asked, “what do I need to know about you, as a group of learners?”. Perfect example.
  3. Do your learners have “skin in the game”? I see this time and time again. Give them an opportunity to make the learning personal. It needs to matter to them. Framing and context matters, but more so is an opportunity for the learners to identify and latch onto something personally relevant to help them make meaning of the material. Seeing them first means encouraging personal relevancy.
  4. Have I started with where the learners are instead of where I want them to be?
  5. Have I made it clear I’m listening? And do I incessantly tie back to what I heard, and what I’ve promised?

Turn your learners, clients, and mentees into collaborators immediately by making it clear that you have listened and allow space for personal relevancy. Open the door to allow and encourage them to join you in co-creating the experience.

Show them that you “see them first” and then let your learners have a peek inside your process by allowing them to see YOU too. Show them the roadmap for the learning and continue to make your thinking visible as you progress, (“here’s what we’re going to do today, here’s how we will get there, and let’s talk about why”).

After all, everyone deserves an opportunity to be seen and heard.

Learning design for the questioning mind

Tonight over dinner with two very talented and successful organizational psychology peers, I realized the level of my own hypocrisy. If this is yet to sound intriguing, pretend the rest of the blog post is narrated by Matt Damon. There, all better?!

It is an interesting experience to go through a Graduate level program as a training professional. As I learn, I’m not only thinking about the material, but how the material is presented. I am often very active in these discussions.

I left a Grad school class extremely frustrated tonight. I was given the “what” and the “why” without the “how”. Some days it’s just the “what”. I constantly seek practical application for what I am learning, specific answers and grounded, real-world comparisons. I am your typical adult learner, someone who wants relevance, application, and clarity. It’s not that I want to pump out the ambiguity – I am intensely interested in the material and just not clear on how to ground the learning. If it’s too high in the sky I get frustrated.

Tonight at dinner, my friend recounted an experiential learning experience where the facilitator told the students the answer (the ah-ha they should experience) AND how they should be feeling. “No no, they shouldn’t be told the answer”, I said. To me, experiential learning succeeds when the students uncover their own answers. I felt discomfort in another workshop I attended where we were told there was only one correct answer for a given exercise. It seemed to de-personalize the experience, I remembered. In workshops and training sessions that I lead, I hardly provide the answers…the students do.

So, why the discrepancy?

I recognize the differences between a graduate level seminar and a professional development workshop but the question still remains… how do you reconcile expectations with reality in a learning experience? How do you balance real-world application with self-discovery?

How do you weigh what the participant needs in the room (short-term) versus long-term?

The solution (remember, I want answers) perhaps, is to find a happy place between student expectations and reality and to recognize the different needs in the room. Maybe it’s to go one step further and uncover why these specific expectations exist.

As with any tough question, perhaps there isn’t a single answer. But when the costs of learning are high, I sure am looking for one.