Each week after sending out this ezine, I sometimes receive a grateful response to the ideas I share, or a personal story or situation that relates to them. With many issues, I’ll not receive any responses. I’m not complaining. I know we’re all inundated with Internet information and can’t read and respond to everything, nor should we. What I do want to do is share a discovery with you that I believe has some ramifications to facilitation and training.
Let me tell you what I’ve discovered to be the number one action I can take in my writing and in my training that generates the most response, like clockwork. Are you ready? Here it is: make mistakes. Yes, other people’s mistakes get us engaged. Something as simple as a spelling or grammatical error generates a flood of emails to point out my faux pas. Why is this so?
It seems to me that we’re all trained to seek out and correct mistakes. Look at the way we were educated. Most of us spent nearly the first twenty years of our lives identifying and solving problems. Math classes were all about solving problems. English classes were all about critiquing other’s work and correcting mistakes in your own. Every other class was about memorizing information and feeding it back while teachers pointed out our errors. Our news media is all about identifying what’s wrong in the world. In fact, I’d venture to guess that nearly 99% of the “news” is about crisis, problems, and mistakes. In business, we’re paid for solving problems and penalized for making mistakes. So is it any wonder why we’re hyper vigilant about avoiding mistakes and hyper focused on seeking them out and correcting them?
Let’s explore how we can use sensitivity to mistakes to our advantage. The following are some tips on how we can use mistakes as opportunities for learning and engagement in groups.
Embrace problems as learning opportunities. To best illustrate this point, I’m going to share a personal story.
It was the mid-90’s and I was co-facilitating the first weekend workshop in a workplace development program at our local community college. We had a stiff ground rule during our first all-day session that basically said if you weren’t present at the agreed upon start time, then you were out of the class and the succeeding 16-month program. A student showed up about 30 minutes late for our morning session. He was adamant about attending and seemed to have had an emergency which made him late.
As facilitators we were struggling with what to do, thinking that maybe we were being too strict with our rules, yet wanting to be fair to the rest of the class who showed up on time. It finally occurred to us that, hey, this is a class about life mastery, about leadership, teamwork, and decision-making. We realized that this was a real problem facing us as leaders, so decided to bring it to the class to solve. We facilitated a class discussion and solution of the problem. It turned into a fantastic real life learning experience. It brought the class closer together. It gave them real world practice in collaborative decision-making. The solution they came up with was their solution. It brought the tardy student a great deal of learning and clarity about what the class was about…a heavy duty makeup session if you will…as the center of attention around this dilemma, and to pleading his case to the class cemented his commitment to them and to the program.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I now preface all of my training programs with the declaration that I will do my best to model good facilitation skills but that I will also make mistakes. I encourage my participants to point out my mistakes and call me on any that they see. I’ve learned from experience that each time I made a mistake in my trainings and owned up to it, it usually created a great deal of learning for the students. Again, people love to jump in to correct someone else’s error and most people love to help people who are sincerely open to receiving it.
Mistakes aren’t always about you. Sometimes what looks like a mistake is actually life having another agenda. Look for clues in mistakes. They may be creating the time, space, or opening for someone to share something, for something more appropriate to happen that will support where the group needs to go.
Use “mistakes” as a teaching method. Earlier this year I had a technical “mistake” that occurred that actually served to bring my group closer together in a way I certainly hadn’t planned. Since my stated objective for the session was to build a learning community, I went with what was happening and used the “problem” as an opportunity.
The confluence of problems that showed during this event showed participants how they can be handled in the real world. Many students commented that being party to this problem as it unfolded and my willingness to share my reactions and decision-making process in realtime helped them see that an event like this is survivable. So this glitch had great instructional value, independent of my curriculum design! You can read the full story here.
Mistakes are a normal occurrence. When they show up unexpectedly, which of course by definition they always do, they can present some of the richest learning or barrier removing opportunities available. In unplanned situations, people tend to be more real and react in way that they normally react in the world. These behaviors can give you clues as a facilitator to patterns that might be the true source of some of the problems you’ve been called in to solve! So watch how your participants respond to mistakes. Both yours and theirs.
How do you typically view mistakes? Is there a shift around mistakes that you’d like to experiment with this week. Add your comments below t0 share your questions, feedback, or experience on this topic.