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Failures in Communication – Don’t Tell Me! Engage Me!

by Mike Rollings  |  January 3, 2012  |  2 Comments

For frequent readers, you know that I tend to look at issues through a humanistic lens.  Many of my client inquiries start with a request for the best way to represent “x”, or the way to describe something so that people will do “y”.  Instead, I like to think about “What are you trying to do?”, “Who are the people involved?”, “What decisions need to be influenced?”, “What behaviors and beliefs are roadblocks?”, and “How do you develop understanding for autonomous action?”.  I have found that if we can uncover the interconnected decisions and understand the human elements then we get traction.

One of the biggest failures with communication, and hence behavior change, is that many people believe that you can tell someone to do something and they will just do it. I see the telling trap played out every day within organizations. It is played out in management, in program implementations, in methodological indoctrination, and in practice improvement. What I find ironic is that even traditional change management exhibits this problem. Many think that managing change is solely about telling staff what is happening, what is going to happen, and what the staff needs to do. Sorry, but one-way communication is telling, and to affect change you need engagement.

Change involves altering relationships and real communication – you know, the bi-directional kind found in the exploration of ideas and learning. That’s where this NPR article “Physicists Seek To Lose The Lecture As Teaching Tool” comes into play.

We don’t need to look much further for the failures of telling than in education. In the NPR article Emily Hanford writes about the end of the lecture. Instead of using the factory assembly line approach to education, Eric Mazur chose to change his approach. He chose to impart conceptual understanding so that people could apply it, rather than look to age-old recipes that, although popular (the lecture), do not work.

“At a recent class, the students — nearly 100 of them — are in small groups discussing a question. Three possible answers to the question are projected on a screen. Before the students start talking with one another, they use a mobile device to vote for their answer. Only 29 percent got it right. After talking for a few minutes, Mazur tells them to answer the question again.

This time, 62 percent of the students get the question right. Next, Mazur leads a discussion about the reasoning behind the answer. The process then begins again with a new question. This is a method Mazur calls “peer Instruction.” He now teaches all of his classes this way.”

No more mind-numbing lectures telling you what to do, not just rote memorization of rules to apply and formulas to follow, but actual learning and applying concepts. THE ABILITY TO DEVELOP REAL UNDERSTANDING AND THE ABILITY TO APPLY KNOWLEDGE WITH YOUR PEERS!

Don’t we all wish that organizations operated this way?

Category: contextual-strategist  human-behavior  management  

Tags: behavior  innovation  taylorism  transformation  

Mike Rollings
Research VP
5 years at Gartner
28 years IT industry

Mike Rollings is VP of Gartner Research within the Professional Effectiveness team. His research discusses what IT professionals need to know about transformation, innovation, human behavior, contextual strategy, collaborative organizational change, communication and influence, and cross-discipline effectiveness . His research can be read by IT professionals with access to Gartner for Technical Professionals (GTP) research. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Failures in Communication – Don’t Tell Me! Engage Me!

  1. Things are changing! You might find this rather interesting from the forward-thinking principal of a school in the UK –

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