The world is flat I tell you

There are some theories that get thrown about quite wildly in the L&D world. You know the types. Did you know communication is only 7% of what you say?! Did you know that we have needs we must meet in order to develop? Did you know that money isn’t a motivator in the workplace? Did you know that public speaking is more feared than death according to a poll done in the US? Did you know an energiser is key to focusing the mind after lunch? Did you know folding your arms means you’re being defensive?

Gotta love these theories. Brings the whole L&D world into disrepute. Theories that once had some meaning attached to them, some well meaning individual came along and decided to bastardise it. And life was simply never the same again. What’s worse is, we’re meant to be an educated bunch of individuals, us L&D types. We’re meant to only provide information that provides insight and we then create learning from.

It saddens me this happens. Because it shows me just how much we’ve not moved on as a profession. We openly use these theories with full confidence. And yet we’re doing the people attending our courses such a disservice it’s just awful. In recent months (and as recently as last week), I’ve had discussion with other L&Ders who admit they know the theories aren’t true, but and I quote:

they serve to help make the point

Right. You have no other way of making a point than to misuse a theory? Really? There are myriad ways we can go about helping individuals to learn using proven techniques, and beyond that be innovative and creative in how we do it, but essentially you’re just
a) too lazy to research the theory so you use it properly
b) a poor L&Der who needs to go back to training school
c) believing your own hype and won’t change your behaviour even though this is what you’re meant to be helping others with?

There is irony there. There are L&Ders in existence who will try and do right by the folks attending a course to truly learn and develop. But there are a good many who will blindly follow what has been taught to them. The problem lies in the fact that the insight derived resonates with individuals. People go – Yes, that is how the world operates, thank you for enlightening to me as such! And there’s nothing wrong with that, really. What’s wrong with it is either using an outdated model or misused theory to bolster your credibility.

Here are some alternatives.

Mehrabian myth – I’ve written about this before. If you want to make a point that body language is important in the delivery of a message, forget the facts you think are associated with it, and use language people understand. Instead of “7% of communication is in the words and 93% is non-verbal”, talk about how when you have conversations with your friends you can influence the flow and ebb of a conversation by the way you are non-verbally engaging with them. This isn’t complicated, not using jargon, and you can have a very healthy discussion about non-verbal communication.

Maslow – have we really not moved past Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? Really? Physiological needs, social needs, personal needs, self-realisation – is this still the basis of what we think constitutes motivation and personal development? We’re in the year 2011 and we have nothing better to offer? How about having a discussion around what the individual wants to achieve? Giving the manager the tools to listen to and ask the right coaching-esque questions is far more powerful than a 40 year old theory on motivation.

Money isn’t a motivator in the workplace. Hmm. Much hotly debated. Frankly, it is. We have to live, and in order to live we need money. So for many, money motivates. And for those who have it, they often want more. There’s a pocket of people who think of money as a secondary motivator. They’re not in the majority though. Progression, promotion, L&D, engagement, are all important, but for most, not a replacement for cold hard money.

Public speaking is more feared than death. Because we’ve all faced death haven’t we. We are so bad at analogies that sometimes I die a little inside. People who are on their deathbeds often go through the worst experience they will ever have to deal with. Ever. And it’s pretty finite. Public speaking? Presentations? You can learn to get over that fear. And with bloody good training, you will. Will it conquer your fear of death? You imbecilic L&Der, stop comparing the two FFS.

Folding arms is being defensive. Kill me. Kill me now. I have also written about this before. There are many components to defensiveness. In fact there are many components to reading body language. And you can learn this. Not from a pseudo-expert who makes claims like this. I would stand face to face in front of all L&Ders who purport to make claims like this and shout at them until I am blue in the face.

Energisers are needed for focusing the mind after lunch. Actually this is true. But it needs to be a very well thought out energiser that truly helps to alleviate the post-lunch lull. Throwing a ball around the room isn’t the same. That’s what you did at school. We’re not at school. Well, some of you act like you are.

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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

3 thoughts on “The world is flat I tell you”

  1. Hear hear.

    I’m naturally sceptical of many things, especially claims people make, and hear a great many things that I think “oh really?” to. And since getting into L&D I have wondered how I fit into this.

    For example, there are a great many criticisms of NLP that I was aware of before I entered L&D. Suddenly I’m in this sphere and it seems to be all that fellow practitioners talk about sometimes, and that it will provide answers in any situation.

    Theories of multiple intelligence is another one I struggle to fully buy into. I think there’s worth in using it to keep in mind that different people are better at different things, but I’m not sure whether Gardner really tells me much to help me train better (feel free to disagree if you know something I don’t!)

    The fact is, our field isn’t grossly scientific because the people within it aren’t likely to be from a scientific/evidence-based background. I’m sure it would benefit our industry if more of us were. Should we take more stock of peer reviewed literature and theory rather than jumping on anything that seems “to put across a point”?

  2. You know what, you’re right! It’s crazy to include ‘learning points’ that we can’t even really believe in ourselves. I recently gave a lecture about job interviews which included elements about body language. Although I did use the “7% is conveyed by the words you use” statistic, I also pointed out that other research has found different answers. The experts’ ideas were combined with visual demonstration (by a helpful colleague) of some bad body language habits which the students interpreted. I was pleasantly surprised by their willingness to call out contributions since getting them to speak up is usually like trying to get blood out of a stone! Goes to show that it can be worth doing something a bit different.

  3. I couldn’t agree more with the above. I have purported on numerous occasions that L&D has been, in some part, an industry of bobble heads. Afraid to challenge what is perceived as L&D norms – in that I would also include the stubborn use of Learning Styles and the use/misuse of tools like MBTI. The idea of folding arms being defensive sends me into fits – I am often cold in meeting rooms and crossing my legs and folding my arms helps me to keep warm; defensive – no, cold – yes. (I use this example when facilitating communication courses).

    You hit the nail on the head with L&D people being lazy with research. We have “learned” via tribal knowledge, assuming that the story-teller is correct. This drives me crazy. We are more connected now that we have every been. Connected with better tools with which to research and networks from which to source. Take advantage. Open your mind. Let in another source of light. Where is your curiosity to learn more and more deeply?

    As L&D people we constantly get frustrated with businesses that tell us they cannot change because “we’ve always done it that way”. Time to take a good look in the mirror, if we don’t accept that excuse from our businesses and our learners, why the hell are we accepting it from our peers (or from ourselves)? When we do so it’s a lose-lose situation.

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