In discussing engagement, a colleague told me a story of going to a conference she had dreamt of for years. She was nervours, but made a deal with herself that she had to ask a question in each session she attended. ‘There was even a session on blockchain, which I know nothing about, and I still asked a question. I felt like an idiot as I assumed the room was full of experts.’
She is highly intelligent and this was many years ago, when there were (and still are) only a handful of blockchain experts in the world. And this was an international development conference, so it’s unlikely there were any experts in the room. Perhaps people talking like they were experts, but still not experts. My colleague was one of the brave ones, willing to ask a question to improve her understanding, willing to engage.
Too often when we create trainings, workshops, or learning opportunities, we expect everyone to be brave. We expect participants to overcome their fear and engage, ask questions, and so on. And yes, it would be nice if this happened, however, it rarely does.
Often, we engage if we feel safe and are interested or if we feel threatened. When threatened we lash out, we are in protection and attack mode. While this is engagement, it is not conducive for learning. Learning tends to require safety and interest. Therefore, perhaps, when we create learning opportunities we need to pay significant attention to the ‘safety’ of the environment in which the learning happens. And yes, this does include physical safety, but mostly is about emotional safety.
As for interest, we can make learning interesting, but if the participant needs to also take responsibility for his/her/their own learning.
And one more thing, we often assume everyone else in the room are experts or that we are the expert and everyone else knows less. Almost never is either of those assumptions true. There are always people in the room (virtual or physical) who we can learn from. Therefore, ask a question, engage.
It’s your turn.