What Aristotle Might Tell Today’s Trainers
By Brian Lange
Internal promotional communications as well as workshop openings often utilize language such as, “You will learn X, Y and Z” and at the conclusion of workshops we often ask participants, “What key takeaways do you have?” Turns out, both approaches are assumptive viewpoints And might rattle the famous philosopher, Aristotle—were he to observe such tactics in use. Consider:
- In the first case, we can’t guarantee they’ll learn anything (despite our best efforts!)
- In the latter case, we’re assuming they learned something worthy of taking away from the class (maybe they did—maybe they didn’t)
Positioning a workshop experience is something we might want to think more deeply about. The typical training approach is to be clear about the objectives we desire to accomplish, and then to set out to win-over, compel, convince and/or seek the audience’s “buy-in” to the content. Too often perhaps, we (as facilitators) do the heavy-lifting during the training of explaining/interpreting the workshop content, and simply end up checking for agreement/buy in throughout: “Does this make sense?” “Do you see how this can be helpful for us?”
Using these tactics, we (inadvertently) risk not delivering a truly transformative learning experience. We limit the amount of self-discovery available for learners, and we lessen true engagement and interaction in the classroom. Why? At its core, we have ultimately positioned the learning experience as a contest between facilitator and learner with the goal of getting the audience to “agree” with the trainer/content (necessary for some topics like compliance/HR, etc.).
When we use “sales-y” terminology or we rebuff a learner who has shared doubt or skepticism with us by probing/fixing/reassuring —we are not being accepting of the other— we’re trying to change them. And, when someone feels another is trying to change them, defensive or unproductive behaviors can occur.
Aristotle has a key perspective for us that may provide modern-day meaning:
“Rhetoric (influence) works best when an audience is left; to make up their own minds.”
With the common approaches mentioned earlier, it becomes apparent that we often position our workshops in such a way that produces a little pressure to agree or get “on board.” It supposes we are trying to change learners in some way. The real role we can serve, however, is to create classroom conditions where learners can choose to change for themselves— not simply to acquiesce to the trainer’s view.
What we really can offer is the opportunity to learn things in the classroom (not a guarantee that they will learn) and we can provide space and acceptance by using language that doesn’t seek agreement, but acknowledges that learners will ultimately decide what works for them from a skill perspective at the conclusion of the training. Language such as, “You might consider…” “If you were to apply these skills…” can be helpful. This type of language helps move the learning experience from an environment of gentle nudging toward agreement—to an environment where learners are free to discover for themselves. Granted, this column covers some possibly deep terrain—but, wouldn’t you agree it’s valuable? Wait…I mean, “What are you thinking about having read this article?”