Engagement dan skognes motivation blogger speaker trainer teacher coachThis is probably one of the most used and abused words in the training and education world.  It does not matter if you are talking about teachers, trainers, coaches, managers, or leaders….engagement (or lack thereof) is an issue.

Is there a simple way to get people engaged in their work, their classroom, or their families?  Well, what I have found is that the answer is both simple and complex.

You begin with the mind, but you have to capture the heart. You can teach someone facts and figures all day long and have it go in one hear and out the other. We have all experienced that.  So the real question is: How do you capture the heart?

Relationship is the best way to engage someone.  If you have relationship with someone, then they listen not just to the words, but to the meaning. They are open to the teaching because they trust you. They will listen because they feel heard and respected. They anticipate that they will gain something from the teaching.

But what do you do if there is no relationship?  How do you capture the heart of someone that wants nothing to do with you or what you have to say? It that even possible?  The answer is yes, but with some conditions. If you want to capture someone’s heart that you trying to teach, here are the rules for engagement:

  1. You still build a bridge for the relationship. You cannot force people to have relationship with you, but it is your responsibility to build a bridge for them to cross when they are ready, then you give them every reason to cross it by being trustworthy, non- judgmental, loving, kind, transparent, and patient. It may take some time, but many people will cross the bridge if they believe you are for real and not here today and gone tomorrow. If they believe that you truly care about them, that is half the battle.
  2. You have to learn to speak their language. Every person on this planet speaks their own dialect. It is unique to them, just like their fingerprints. It is based on their experience, their age, their intellect, their family, their culture, even where they live. You have to learn to speak the verbiage they understand. Have you ever been in a room and someone starts throwing out $10 words expecting that you know them, and you feel like a dummy because you feel clueless about what they just said? Don’t assume people know what you mean. Don’t use acronyms with people that don’t know your industry. Check for understanding. Look for clues in body language as to whether they get it or not. Ask them to rephrase in their own words what you just said if there is any doubt that they understand.
  3. You have to not just strive to build relationship and speak their language; you have to give them something of value. If there is no perceived value, you’ve lost them. Let them know what is in it for them and how this will help them. Relate it to real life.

I was teaching a class of third graders and this one kid was being a bully to someone else. When I asked him what he was doing, he said, “He made me mad, so I hit him.  My mom told me not to take anything off of anyone.” How do you override advice from Mom?  Carefully!

I put on my referee hat and said, “Well, in this school and in this class it is NOT OK to hit anyone, so let me give you some advice to help you for the rest of your life. If you go around hitting people that upset you, what do you think can happen?”  The hands were flying up across the room. “You can get hurt,” one kid said. I responded, “Yes, and you could go to jail or even get killed! It is serious stuff to start taking the law into your own hands, so don’t do it. If you have a problem with another child, you come get me or another teacher to help you. In the words of the song from one of your favorite movies, let it go!” The kids laughed and started singing the chorus of the song.  It was pretty funny. The tension was gone and order was restored…at least for the moment.

So, if you want to engage your class, your team, your company, or your family, build the relationship bridge. Anticipate that at some point they WILL cross it. Learn to speak their language, and have something of value to give them verbally. The reward is worth the effort. If you want to teach them, you’ve got to reach them.


Dan Skognes

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