Saturday 25 July 2020

From grumpy to enthusiastic...

It's always entertaining when we ourselves go through precisely the journey we discuss with our clients, with regard to change.

There are, of course, many such journeys; but not an infinite number. So one can discuss probable pathways for different people, and this is certainly one typical one...

At the start of lockdown, I was fairly clear in my own head that the one-to-one work I do could easily continue online.  Indeed, I have been doing telephone coaching for many years, and zoom/skype (other brands are available) coaching for quite a few.

But the group facilitation, and in particular skills training, was not really possible in that way. Indeed, I was clear that some of the key skills I see myself bringing to that process, such as the creation of a safe but rigorously challenging atmosphere, rely on physical presence; likewise, some of the benefits of the workshops I run, such as building connections and networks (and to some extent, I stand by that).

So it was with (well-disguised, I hope) ill grace that I agreed to run some online sessions for one of my clients; to continue at least to some extent, a programme that had started pre-lockdown, and to honour, as best we could, the commitment of the participants.

The first sessions were largely idea- and feeling-sharing; and were very well received.  And due to participants' enthusiasm, and because some of the topics we had on the agenda for later meetings were about behavioural skills, such as influencing, I decided to see what we could do in terms of skills practice in that environment.

My prejudice against doing this kind of work online was reinforced by some of the online CPD I was doing, which was presented in dull and unimaginative ways, and included little skills practice of any value.

However, that set me thinking about what I would do differently, to make online learning more engaging, and to what extent practice in the virtual environment is, in fact, possible.

So I have been experimenting with giving more information (about theories or models) in advance, of an online workshop, and with getting people to participate in small groups without me there to supervise or hold their hand - and that has gone really well.

So I am now, enthusiastically, working up a full negotiating skills programme, which will consist of: several short modules of learning, which can be either read as short handouts with some reflective questions at the end, watched as a series of short videos (and again with reference to the reflective questions at the end of each module), or listened to, as a podcast in short chapters (and ditto re questions). That will be followed by some demonstration negotiations: one that goes well, one that is tough but gets to a resolution, and one where there is no final agreement due to one party's intransigence - all with some commentary. 

Alongside that, we will have an a-synchronous online discussion, in which participants can discuss various questions posed by me, and also anything else arising from their study, reflection or experience. Finally, there will be a live online workshop, where participants can  ask questions about the work done so far, and then practice the skills in small groups with other participants.

I am fortunate enough to have a client who is equally excited about this approach, and we are looking to go live in September. If it works well, I will be making it available to other clients, and also developing a number of other workshops on the same basis.

So I have done a complete u-turn on this. I can see several benefits to this approach (as well as some disadvantages). People can engage at times that work for them, which can be as short as a few minutes, or more extended if they want. They can re-visit any parts they want to, or go back after the demo negotiations to deepen their theoretical understanding after seeing the process in practice, and so on.  It won't be the same as a live workshop, and it won't draw on the same skills from me; but it does rely on other skills I have acquired over the years, and perhaps take for granted.

And the meta-lesson is that this is so often how people progress through change - and one of the elements that most change models under-emphasise, in my view, is the effect of time. People need time to assimilate the new reality, to re-orientate themselves, and to make new understandings of their role and contribution. We need to be careful not to reinforce their initial grumpiness in our haste to make progress, or we can sabotage that natural process.


With thanks to Brooke CagleChristine Donaldson and Fabian Qunitero for sharing their photography via Unsplash.

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