Garden tools and watering can with grass

Evoke change talk to enhance motivation for change

 

Previously, we looked at Motivational Interviewing (MI) as having four key processes and reviewed practice exercises targeting the first two processes:  engaging and focusing. This week’s intentional practice centers on evoking, specifically on evoking change talk.

Once we have engaged with our client and have collaboratively identified a goal (focusing), ambivalence about change is still common. Increased client change talk is associated with increased likelihood for change. Evoking change talk is key. When ambivalence is present, it is normal for change talk to occur within the context of sustain talk. This activity will help you practice selectively reflecting the change talk content contained within ambivalence.

 

Instructions: Review the client statements below, containing both change talk and sustain talk, and develop reflective statements that are focused on the change talk.  

Here’s a pre-test to get you started:

Client statement:

“I am 78 years old, and this medication is ruining what life and pleasure I have left. I know the doctor said there is a good chance it will help things, but I just don’t think these side effects are worth it.”

Sample therapist responses: Which reflective response focuses on the change talk in the above statement?

a. You really don’t want to continue with this medication.

b. It’s pretty clear that the doctor wants you to continue.

c. You’re not sure whether it’s worthwhile to continue the medication.

(check out the end of this article for the correct answer)

 

Note: The point of this exercise is not to do a double-sided reflection, but rather to listen for and select the change talk, and make that your focus in your reflective statement.

Client Statement: Start out by underlining the change talk in the statements below

 

Reflection: Now write down a reflection that selectively responds only to the client change talk contained in the statement
1.      The material the clinic gave me for my high blood pressure said I should avoid processed food, or else read the labels. I’m so busy I barely have time to eat, let alone shop, analyze my groceries, and spend half the night in the kitchen. These people do not live in the real world.

 

 
2.      Is it such a crime that I want to enjoy life while I’m still young? Once I’m tied into work, paying the bills, kids and all that I can scale things back.

 

 
3.      It is so frustrating that the minute you get pregnant everyone expects you to be perfect! I am so stressed out, it can’t be good for the baby. I am only having a few cigarettes a day, and my partner is totally on my case about it.

 

 

Reflective practice questions:

  1. How easy or difficult was it for you to identify the change talk in each of the client statements?
  2. How easy or difficult was it for you to frame a complex reflection that would further evoke change talk?
  3. What are the implications of this for your own continued growth and practice as a Motivational Interviewing practitioner?

(Correct answer: b. It’s pretty clear that the doctor wants you to continue.)

Adapted from: MINT TNT Manual (2014), various authors. 

camera lens

 

Focusing means strategic centering with a collaborative goal

 

In a previous article, we looked at Motivational Interviewing (MI) as having four key processes: Engaging, Focusing, Evoking and Planning.

Motivational Interviewing is directional – not directive. There is a horizon, something that we and the client are committed to working toward. However, finding and collaboratively agreeing on goals can be a challenge! This week’s intentional practice looks at the process of working with your client to jointly identify an agreed-upon goal. Below are two brief case scenarios. With a partner, you will each take a turn with one of the scenarios as a departure point for a follow-up session with a client with the intention of setting an agenda for change. The skills for intentional practice in this activity are to:

Practice a focusing conversation using the skills of MI – with special attention to those noted above. How can you practice these skills to guide the client toward focusing on a meaningful and collaborative goal? Take five minutes and then switch roles. After you have both had an opportunity to practice, take five minutes to debrief and share feedback with your learning buddy.

 

Case Example 1:

You are meeting with your client, Akilesh, for a follow-up appointment. In your initial session, you learned that he has been under a great deal of stress due to impending lay-offs at his work place. To make matters worse, his wife is in her first month of maternity leave with a reduced income. His mother’s health is failing, and his older son has been acting out at school: hitting and spitting at other children in his class, and on one occasion, his teacher. Finally, at the end of your first session, Akilesh “came clean” with you and acknowledged that he smokes 10-15 cigarettes per day.

 

Case Example 2:

You are meeting with your client, Elina, for a follow-up appointment. At the end of your initial session, Elina reluctantly agreed to come back and see you again. You suspect that in addition to appeasing her cardiologist by attending the referral appointment with you last time, she is now coming back for this second appointment because she wants to appease you. In the previous session, Elina acknowledged that she would probably be healthier if she quit smoking, but stated that smoking is a profound pleasure for her. She shared that she has already made so many changes, she just can’t see herself giving up her cigarettes.

 

Reflective practice questions:

Was your “righting reflex” triggered by anything in the case example, or by any of the client responses in your role play? To what extent were you able to maintain MI Spirit throughout the conversation?

 

1 engaging

 

Engaging is the Relational Foundation

 

In their 2012 edition of the Motivational Interviewing “textbook”, Miller and Rollnick outline four recursive processes of MI. My colleague Wayne Skinner and I summarized these in a recent book chapter on MI:

Engaging: Client engagement is essential to the helping relationship. Without engagement, it is not possible to proceed, as the client makes a decision about whether to join with the practitioner and actively participate in treatment. The skills of engagement must also continue throughout all stages in the helping relationship.

Focusing: This “strategic centering” process hones in, with the client as equal partner, on the possible target(s) or direction(s) for change. At all times, client autonomy is respected – it is for the client to determine what he or she would like to address or work towards in treatment. Periodic “re-focusing” may be needed as goals evolve or change over time.

Evoking: Once the client is engaged in treatment, and client and practitioner have agreed on areas of focus, it is the practitioner’s task to evoke from the client his or her ambivalence about changing, reasons for change and strategies for change. In this stage the skills of MI become strategic in guiding the person in the direction of change by paying special attention to evoking change talk.

Planning: The process of planning can occur when (and only when) the client is ready to make a commitment to change. The skills of evoking commitment language, as well as the client’s strategies and ideas for change are key in this process.

Note that these processes follow a logical sequence, as each builds on the one before. However, practitioners may circle back to previous processes throughout the helping relationship.

 

Advancing Practice

Advancing our clinical practice takes practice. People often ask how they can access further training in Motivational Interviewing (MI), and there are lots of options available, but the most effective way is to just practice the skills! Peer practice is a good approach especially for those new to MI. I like case-based simulation as a teaching tool in MI to support integrated practice.

 

Case-based Learning

This exercise challenges you to intentionally practice the spirit and skills of Motivational Interviewing as they relate to engaging with our clients. The first few minutes of the very first session are powerful: this time communicates a wealth of information to your client about who you are as a person and a practitioner, as well as how you regard them. As you practice, consider how you can optimize the spirit and skills of MI as a powerful and impactful entry into engagement.

Below are two brief case scenarios. With a partner, you will each take a turn with one of the scenarios as a departure point for the first five minutes of your consultation. Remember that your purpose in this activity is to:

  • Intentionally embody the spirit of MI: partnership, acceptance, compassion and evocation
  • Beware the “righting reflex” – your task is to engage, not to fix it!
  • Practice reflective listening – incorporate at least three reflective responses in your practice.

Take five minutes and then switch roles. After you have both had an opportunity to practice, take five minutes to debrief and share feedback with your learning buddy.

Case Example 1:

Akilesh has been referred to your clinic because he has just been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. He is not overly concerned, as he was told that his condition at this time is not severe and can be controlled with diet. He is hoping for some clear guidelines and advice about foods to stay away from, and how to adapt his eating patterns. His chart states that he does not drink alcohol and that he is an “occasional smoker”. When he comes into your office, you notice that he smells strongly of tobacco smoke.

Case Example 2:

Elina is attending her appointment to appease her cardiologist, who is very concerned because of her continuing heavy tobacco use following her heart attack nine months ago. Elena is polite but clear that she does not intend to quit smoking. She has started an exercise program and is now eating a healthier diet, and feels that there is a limit to what changes she is willing to make in order to maintain her “quality of life”.

Reflective practice questions:

Was your “righting reflex” triggered by anything in the case example, or by any of the client responses in your role play? To what extent were you able to maintain MI Spirit throughout the conversation?

everything has beauty

 

Learn how to see

 

I was reading an article suggesting that in the future, 47% of today’s jobs will be automated. The robots are coming?

Increasingly, adaptive systems, pervasive computing and big data are supplanting many services or functions currently delivered by actual humans. In this reality, education shifts from knowledge transfer to… incubating creativity, fostering entrepreneurship and enabling critical reflection, judgement and decision-making.

“In a roboticized economy, colleges will have to pivot to building students’ capacity for coming up with original ideas”

This isn’t new. Transformative learning experiences have always meant seeing the world in new ways. Time spent in the “classroom” (wherever or whatever that looks like) is so precious and limited. I want to create learning spaces that illuminate possibilities and unleash students’ potential.

Learning to see beauty means creating it. Creating the possible is beautiful.

 

 

street art basketball

 

 

Nothing is possible without engagement

In any interpersonal interaction, nothing is possible unless there is engagement. This is true whether it’s a one-to-one counselling session, a classroom full of students, or a company team meeting. Engagement is the foundation of relationship, collaboration and change.

Enter Motivational Interviewing: A collaborative conversation for exploring and resolving ambivalence about change.

It seems like no matter how many years I have spent as a Motivational Interviewing trainer and practitioner, I still find nuances and insights in this model of practice decribed as ‘simple, but not easy‘. Lately I have been thinking about engagement as the essential underlying process in Motivational Interviewing, and mulling over how we can translate the clinical skills of establishing engagement with clients to our everyday skills in educational and work place settings to foster student and employee engagement.

 

Engagement is less about skill than it is about the spirit in which we practice – as clinicians, educators and leaders

What would our conversations, classrooms and meetings look, sound and feel like if we were able to deeply and consistently enact the four components of MI Spirit?
  1. We come to the relationship from a stance of respectful partnership, where all individuals bring valued and equal expertise
  2. We unconditionally accept others’ autonomy, worth and capacity – even when their intentions or actions don’t align with what we think best
  3. We are deeply committed to the highest interests of the other, rather than advancing our own agenda: compassion
  4. We are as eager to hear others’ stories, perspectives, beliefs, wisdom and values as we are to share our own: evocation as opposed to installation or education.

First and foremost, the spirit of Motivational Interviewing is more important than the skills.

Simple but not easy

When we like what we see, hear and feel, it’s relatively straightforward to respect what others bring to the table (partnership), to affirm their absolute autonomy (acceptance), to act with their best interests at heart (compassion), and to create a space in which their voice is heard and affirmed (evocation). The going gets tough when we don’t like what we’re seeing, hearing or feeling. That’s where our real work begins, and where we are most tested as clinicans, educators and leaders.

Authority is the enemy of engagement

Engagement isn’t the whole story, but it’s the essential beginning. Nothing substantive happens without it.
And when we have it, all things become possible.
compassion motivational interviewing quote

ocean paper boat water cropped

The evolution of teaching and learning

Whether implicit or explicit, we all have a theory of teaching and learning. This gets expressed and enacted in how we engage with our students, the tools we use (or don’t use), and even where we stand in the classroom (F2F or virtually). Traditional theoretical frameworks can be broadly grouped into four domains: instructivism, critical theory, constructivist approaches and andragogy (or adult learning). But the rise of many-to-many, decentred and non-linear networking and communication channels have given rise to corresponding advances in frameworks for teaching and learning in the global classroom.

The 1.0 Classroom

education 1_0

Instructivism as a standard approach to teaching emerged from positivist and post-positivist paradigms. Characterized by the traditional “chalk and talk” style, instructivist pedagogy is premised on a transmission model of learning. Learning outcomes and curricula are pre-determined and delivered in a primarily didactic fashion. The same information is provided to all learners regardless of their pre-existing knowledge and skills.

 

 

Teaching 2.0

education 2_0Constructivism marked a shift from teacher-centred to student-centred learning, deemphasizing informing (memorizing facts) in favour of transforming: locating, critiquing and synthesizing knowledge in a culture of collaboration and sharing. Curriculum development is based on student query, which acknowledges that students learn more by asking questions than by answering them. In this model, students critically engage with course material by posing questions that further group reflection and debate. Adult learning (andragogy) and critical approaches extend and complement contructivist learning models.

 

Education 3.0

Over the last decade, two models have emerged to challege our existing paradigms: heutagogy (Blaschke, 2012, Hase and Kenyon, 2000) and paragogy (Corneli and Danoff, 2011). These extend constructivist, critical and adult learning theories offering models of learning that are (1) self-determined, (2) peer-led,
education 3_0 (3) decentred and (4) non-linear. These characteristics map onto social media applications and the democratization of knowledge and information. Heutagogical and paragogical approaches also extend traditional andragogical and adult learning frameworks by emphasizing meta learning, or learning how to learn.

 

Andragogy, Heutagogy and Social Media

Andragogy (Self-directed) Heutagogy (Self-determined) Parallels with Social Media
Competency development Capability development Knowledge curators
Linear design of curricula Non-linearity in curricula Hyper-learners
Instructor/learner directed Learner directed Autonomous digital communities
Content focus (what is learned) Process focus (meta learning, learning how to learn) Online collaboration, sharing, crowd-sourcing

 

This shift is radical in challenging the implicit notion that we (educators) know best what students need to learn. As Morris (2013) puts it, the issue of how to modify or reinvent teaching in higher education “can create anxiety, uncertainty, and even resentment toward a shift in the culture of learning that we’ve had little control over, that’s come at us from outside our own domain; for others, this new landscape appears inviting, exciting, and full of possibility”.

Radically self-determined and networked learning approaches (like heutagogy and paragogy) affirm individuals as the experts in their lives and learning trajectories. Nothing less than what has always been.

 

 

Note: Images depicting Education 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 were adapted from a blog post by Jackie Gerstein: Experiences in Self-Determined Learning: Moving from Education 1.0 Through Education 2.0 Towards Education 3.0

This post was adapted from a previous article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A year in pictures – Happy 2016!

 

 

The turning of the calendar is a place in-between. A perspective both backwards and forwards. This year in pictures represents gratitude for what has been, and eager welcome of what is yet to come.

 

take time to enjoy small delights

take time to enjoy small delights

 

be the change

be the change

 

even when it's really bad, get your hands dirty and try to make repairs

even when it’s really bad, get your hands dirty and try to make repairs

 

appreciate the beauty that surrounds us

appreciate the beauty that surrounds us

 

focus on what really matters

focus on what really matters

 

follow new paths

follow new paths

 

don't be afraid to shine

don’t be afraid to shine

 

spread the love

spread the love

 

take time with family and friends

take time with family and friends

 

be happy

be happy

 

bake a cake

bake a cake

 

Celebrate! (Happy 2016)

Celebrate!
(Happy 2016)

 

 

 

 

 

 

perfect present

Lovely things

 

 

Curated just for you by educateria

 

 

1. A guide to understanding your lived experience and yourself

The newly-relmetaphysical dictionaryeased Metaphysical Dictionary by Svetlana Lilova is profound, whimsical and wise, delightfully illustrated by Graham Falk. At her recent book launch at Centennial College, the author described how, newly-arrived in Canada and never having heard spoken English, she traversed the city with a dictionary in hand. Fast-forward many years, and Lilova offers us a compass, a roadmap, a mirror and a prism through which we can distill our lived experience and inner selves in this small, elegant volume.

Order here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. A constant reminder

Inspirational sayings and quotations are always welcome, particularly expressed in everyday items. We are continuously exposed to a deluge of unsolicited and counter-productive messaging, and these are a welcome antidote.

moment is your notebook

 

“This Moment is Yours” notebook available here. It has to be in turquoise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

i can and i will

 

An heroic affirmation of determination and ability! This zippered pouch is perfect for everyday essentials. Available here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Your very own power source

Your phone is at 2% power and no outlet in sight…and you’re scheduled to join a conference call in five minutes. Enter the charging block. Until nearly every surface integrates device charging, this is what we need circa 2016. Available here.

power block

 

4. Stories to remind us we are all connected

hony-stories-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am a big fan of HONY. The latest book by photographic census-taker Brandon Stanton reminds us that the singular is universal. Ordering information here.

 

 

 

 

 

5. Fall asleep under the stars

 

star map projector dome

 

 

The Star Map Projector Dome (available in your choice of southern or northern hemispheres) evokes the magic and mystery of laying on a dock at night and looking up at the sky. Not very practical in December, so this is the next best thing. Check it out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May your days be merry and bright!

mock up poster frame in hipster interior background,christamas decoration,

 

 

 

bike flowers

 

How do you want to travel?

 

Presentations and workshops are particular journeys for all participants – the facilitator included. From an overall accountability perspective, responsibility for the session sits squarely on the shoulders of the presenter, and rightly so. The content, pacing, climate and structure need to be clearly communicated and consistently enacted. Course evaluations assess how effectively presenters perform across these domains, and offer immediate feedback for improvement. But what about the audience?

Lately I’ve been thinking about individual audience members’ accountability, and the delicacy in creating a climate where each person in the room feels as invested in the value and success of the event as the presenter. This goes beyond learning outcomes and focuses on process (how we engage) as well as content (what we learn).

Most workshops and presentations typically start with some or all of:

  • Learning outcomes
  • Session overview or outline
  • Participants’ learning goals
  • Pre-session learning assessments.

However, few workshops explicitly build in a chance for participants to identify how they will contribute. In other words, reflecting on how we learn and participate, what might hold us back, and what would make it safe to take risks and participate in ways that might feel downright uncomfortable. I think these questions are crucial precursors to the usual content-focused questions or assessments, because a conversation about process sets the stage for joint responsibility for engagement.

It comes down to a conversation about how we (both presenter and group) collectively want to make the journey together. From a presenter’s perspective, this means starting out by asking questions such as:

  1. Are you coming to this session as a spectator or as a participant?
  2. What are some possible ways into the content that would resonate for you, and how could you amplify these entry points?
  3. What would it take to make you want to step outside your comfort zone?
  4. If you decided to take some risks in the interest of your own ‘deep learning’, how can the group support you?
  5. How will you translate and adapt ideas or applications to make them 100% relevant for you?

You don’t have to ask all five questions, and there are a wealth of other questions you could pose. The key is our intentionality in creating time for all participants to reflect on their roles, and on the nature of the voyage they are going to take with you and one-another.

And the next time I attend a presentation or workshop (or a class, meeting, performance, celebration or other opportunity to actively engage), I will be asking myself: “How do I want to travel?”

 

 

 

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Honesty is the best poetry

I’ve written elsewhere about “PowerPoint Best Practices” and why slide design can make the world a happier place. Images are like poems: their economy is such that they immediately engage our affective (versus cognitive) domain – and affect is hugely influential in learning and knowledge retention. I was briefly obsessed with imagist poetry as a teenager: “that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time”.  (It left its mark.)

The same disciplined simplicity is at the heart of the best and most effective use of beautiful/disturbing/thought-provoking/unexpected visuals accompanying a presentation. (PS: Check out this anthology if you want to learn more about imagism)

“Sounds good, but how can I visually translate MY ideas?”  (especially an image that is compelling, novel and adds value)

It’s a fair question. Most academics are trained to frame our ideas and concepts in words, not pictures. Yet words and pictures are both just symbols. For example, this slide deck for a full day workshop on advanced practice in Motivational Interviewing is approximately 80% images – used as placeholders for each of the practice-based activities I facilitated throughout the day.

In short: think about how you would define or translate the one key idea behind what you are trying to communicate. It is more than an excercise in finding pretty pictures – ruthless simplification forces us to reflect on the essential. That which we intend to be most memorable. This can only be a good thing for both presenter and audience!

Major Caveat: Visual communication is especially critical in relation to numeric data. Twenty years ago I never thought of data visualization as a career path, yet these modern-day dowsers are crucial to our understanding of the digital ocean. And that’s a whole other conversation: check out Big Data Science on Twitter. I am a rank amateur compared to what these people do.

If I were presenting this article to you, here is my slide:

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(Honesty is the best poetry, Queen St West, Toronto, Canada )

fish swimming sky

If you want to get out alive, never swim against the current

A few weeks ago a colleague shared a harrowing story of a presentation gone wrong. It was one of those scenarios where you don’t anticipate much controversy about what you have to offer, and the group appears jovial. But beware – large groups can sometimes behave like jungle cats. One moment, the regal beast is basking in the sun and purring, and then suddenly the powerful claws will slash and wound. Perhaps this sounds overly dramatic, but I’ve yet to meet a presenter who – somewhere – does not carry a scar from such an encounter. When it’s just you in the “cage” with a couple hundred slumbering lions, it’s best to keep alert and look them in the eyes!

Now, I am not implying that presenters should fear their audiences. Presentations offer an unparalleled opportunity to inspire, communicate and connect. And I’m not suggesting that it’s us (presenters) against them (audiences). That said, we know that individuals have distinct personalities and moods. And like individuals, a group’s mood can shift rapidly; sometimes without warning. It can feel mighty lonely at the front of the room when the group turns ugly.

I’ve written elsewhere about how to “TAME” difficult or challenging participants. But what to do when the whole group seems against you?

The first order of business is listen to understand. What did you say that triggered discord? What might be behind the objections, concerns, indignation or outright scorn among audience members? Modeling a stance of eager curiosity and a humble willingness to listen is disarming. It is profoundly respectful.

Example: “It sounds like this is something we really need to pay attention to. Would you or others be willing to share more? I’m so glad that you spoke up – thank you for raising this.”

The second essential step is to step outside of the content – that is, what you and others are saying – and reflect on the process. Group process refers to the how versus the what. This is expecially important to do if Step 1 results in pure venting and is not especially productive for the group as a whole. The power of reflecting on process as opposed to content is that you make it not just your problem, but the group’s problem. Plus, it is almost certain that while there are dissenting voices in the room, there are also voices that want to help you get things back on track – if you give them the opportunity.

Example: “I want to take a step back and reflect on what’s happening in the room. I noticed that when I said […], there were some strong reactions. I’m wondering what would be most helpful from me at this point? What do others think?”

The third point is to keep an open mind. It may be that you’re pretty invested in the idea or perspective that you are sharing and the audience members’ opposing opinions have provoked defensiveness on your part. This never goes down well. Defensiveness on a presenter’s part can be like throwing gas on a fire. Stay open to the possibility that you might indeed be missing something important, and that the group is offering you a true gift by pointing it out. That doesn’t mean you are obliged to do exactly what others want you to do, or even to change your thinking. It’s simple reciprocity – if I want others to listen to me with an open mind, I need to be willing to do the same.

Example: (inside voice) “Hmmm…I was not expecting this reaction. I wonder if there are others who might have the same reaction. This is worth considering carefully.”

In short, always swim with the current.  Trust me, you will eventually make it to shore with only a few scrapes and bruises!

DSC_0038

DSC_0053

 

Today I happened across a list of 100 best leadership quotes.  A large proportion of these quotes emphasize the relational, inspirational, caring elements that characterize leadership as distinct from management. I started reading the “100 best” from an administrator perspective, and then I began to re-read the quotes substituting “teacher” for “leader”. As you might guess, my thought experiment underscored how the very best teachers are those who demonstrate outstanding leadership qualities.

For example:

#26: You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case. (Ken Kesey)

 

…or put another way…

 

You don’t teach by pointing and telling people some place to go. You teach by going to that place and making a case.

 

I’m not sure that Kesey’s leadership style (or teaching style, for that matter) would fit well in today’s workplace/classrooms. But that quote reimagined is a container for constructivist perspectives of authentic learning environments.  I don’t love the hint of persuasion that “making a case” in Kesey’s quote implies, but I choose to read it as being willing to start where the learner is at and establish the relevance and salience of learning. And the best teachers are right alongside their students as they journey to unanticipated destinations.

 

Actually, that list consitutes quite a gold mine of pointers for outstanding teaching.

 

acorn

little green flying insect

It’s the practice itself that really matters

I found this on Twitter the other day, and it got me thinking about the art of listening…

While someone else is speaking, how often am I busy framing a reply? And if I’m focused on thinking about what I’m going to say next, that’s not actually listening. And then, I started thinking about how many conversations occur where both parties are more engaged in their own internal dialogues rather than a real, authentic, “I’m listening to you” dialogue.

Through this lens, silence isn’t just not speaking while someone else has the floor. Silence is a way of being, an inner stillness. In addition to silencing my “outside voice” (i.e., not interrupting), listening includes silencing my “inside voice” (see above) … and paying complete attention: with ears, eyes, undivided attention and heart.

I’ve been delivering training on Motivational Interviewing for about the last 15 years, and have spent much of that time focusing on the skill of reflective listening in clinical practice. In fairness, I also endeavor to “walk the walk” in everyday life. But something about that tweet caught my attention and made me pay attention.

Every conversation is an opportunity to simply practice listening. And like any discipline, it’s the practice itself that really matters.

firepit

 

 

“Every person is like all others, some others, and no others.”

 

Night air, pine trees, starlight and throw another log on the fire. Sitting around a fire-pit makes us all storytellers.

This weekend I finally heard the complete narrative of my dad’s1981 road trip through Canada’s Maritime provinces with Uncle Ulysses. Including the ill-advised (in retrospect) meal of fresh-cooked clams that led to their acute and enduring distress. Like all heroes, Euclid and Ulysses (actual names) valiantly carried on through their itinerary of roadside museums and historic landmarks. It all culminated on the final night of the trip where, after three days of fasting, they deemed it safe to order pizza as an accompaniment to the 6-pack of beer they’d picked up earlier. The smell of fresh pizza proved too much to bear, and as my father put it, “I said: ‘Please don’t hit the beer’; and we never did eat the pizza”. To this day, neither of them has ever tasted shellfish again.

I loved that story, and even more I loved the experience of hearing the story. The fireside version took around 15 minutes and was punctuated with the audience’s questions, observations, digressions, reflections and laughter. It was engaging, relateable, suspenseful, totally human.

This makes me think more about the axiom of “tell more stories” in presentations and workshops. For listeners, the most powerful storytelling experiences are not passive, but rather, involve actively participating as co-authors in the telling. Even in large groups or online or asynchronous learning environments this can take the form of an internal conversation and co-authoring, as each of us relates to our own lives and our personal stories.

So…my lesson learned is to try going beyond just telling stories, and to intentionally create avenues for the audience to participate in the telling. Most training venues and classrooms don’t permit campfires, but I’m inspired to find ways to leverage stories as powerful shared experiences. Every story represents the rich complexity of human experience, as each of us is “like all others, some others, and no others” (paraphrasing Murray and Kluckhohn, 1953).

Stories connect our content to others in powerful ways. Being a better presenter has to involve getting better at storytelling.

 

 

 

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Do you remember your very first day?

 

This weekend is move-in time for first year university students living in residence. When my daughter was small, I couldn’t even fathom the day when she flew from her “nest”. It all seemed so impossibly far away, and now here we are on the brink of independence – both hers and mine. Mentioning this impending event to friends and colleagues evokes a gush of memories about embarking on post-secondary education. We are instantly transported back to a transition marked by excitement, trepidation and absolute freedom. Selecting courses, finding classrooms, drinking a lot of coffee, and making lifelong friends. There was some learning there too, as I recall.

All these years later, I can’t recall the advice that my parents no doubt gave me prior to my first year at university. I felt pretty sure I had things figured out, and what I didn’t know I was keen to discover for myself. But the impetus to impart one’s hard-won wisdom is irresistable, so here are my key messages to you, my daughter, as you commence an incredible journey:

  • Be grateful. The fact that your main job in post-secondary education is to learn carries enormous privilege and obligation. People literally risk their lives to get an education. For many in our world it is out of reach. Learn as much as you can and make a positive difference.
  • Keep an open mind. You might think you’ve settled on a path, but look to the left and right as you travel – there could be other options and opportunities that you never imagined for yourself.
  • Keep an open mind about friendships too. The person sitting next to you may be far outside others you’ve encountered and known (and they might be thinking the same about you), but you might find in them an essential part to who you will become.
  • Read the course readings, even if they’re hard and boring. Not only will you learn stuff, you’ll also learn discipline. Sometimes life involves reading hard, boring stuff – the challenge is in transforming it into accessible, engaging, transformational stuff. Alchemy with your mind.
  • Be your real, true self. High school doesn’t generally encourage this, so now is the chance that every high school student has been waiting for.
  • Join clubs. OK, I admit I didn’t do this myself as an undergraduate, but I really wish I had.
  • Ask for help. We all need help, with just about everything. Ask your friends, your professors, the student services people…basically anyone. And it probably doesn’t need saying, but you can always ask your mom. Any time of the day or night.
  • Oh, and also have fun. Actually I don’t need to include that as part of my advice because you will do that anyway. You won’t be able to not do it. You are going to redefine the word fun.

 

In short: fly free, grow your mind and heart, enjoy the ride, and don’t forget to call home.

 

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