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Talking About Loneliness

Last week I facilitated some learning and conversation at the 2016 LPI Fellows Symposium under the heading of ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Learning Leader’. I promised to write up something about the experience, this is that reflection and review.

The first things we spoke about and shared together, were our desired mood and tone for the session, and our expectations. These things were scribbled onto Post It notes and made available for people to read in the room, and I offered to write them up afterwards (Pro tip: If you want a Post It to stick well, peel it off side to side, not top to bottom. Thank you Tom). The mood conversation works well as a word cloud.

LPI Mood and Tone Conversation

The expectations are much more nuanced and having tried to word cloud them – all I got was confusion. The full list of what people shared is available here, in essence I see it as boldness, sharing, connecting, challenge, reflection, and something about the yin of discomfort meshed with the yang of ease.

The overarching themes for the session were loneliness, and how to make work better. Prior to the session I published a few notes and suggested topics of conversation. Here is a reminder of the conversation topics on offer:

Loneliness – recognising it, working with it, overcoming it
Trust – giving, earning, breaking, rebuilding. If we go down this route, I am mindful that though important, trust is not enough. So what else do we need in order to cocreate a ‘Proceed Until Apprehended’ mindset?
Responsibility – owning, taking and sharing
Creativity – we need it, yet behaviourally we’re often way off – how do we get better?
Networks – communities of practice, and more
Technology – by itself is not the answer – and a poor tech experience can severely limit opportunity

In addition, the group asked to add Resilience and How to Deal With a Bad Hair Day into the mix.

With all the basics covered, the conversation began – with groups at tables choosing to let the conversation flow in the directions they wanted. The invitation was to talk for a period of time, reconvene and see where we should go next. The initial period of conversation seemed to focus on challenges, and after a short break – we agreed to let the conversation flow, and then to share any thoughts, ideas, questions. I’m conscious that when sharing brief snippets and outputs of a much richer picture, gaps often appear:

The impulse is pure
Sometimes our circuits get shorted
By external interference
Signals get crossed
And the balance distorted
By internal incoherence – N.Peart

Notwithstanding these gaps and possible shortcomings, here is a summary of what people shared.

Loneliness: Have confidence. Do business leaders really know what L&D delivers? Does L&D? Does the way we describe ourselves create an impression we didn’t intend to create?

Trust: Shifting from trust neutral – choosing to give first. Using purpose and connection to underpin trust. Brand : Why, not what?

Responsibility: This grid was offered as a way of helping to analyse stakeholders.

Stakeholder Analysis Grid

Networks: Are useful and they are not a community, self policing. How would you introduce yourself?

Resilience: Have a passion for your goal, or walk. Support, for your plan. Where do you get support – family? Ask for help. What is your verb?

Any Other Business

My intention was for this session to have a very light structure, and to be something cocreated. I wrote some notes to help introduce the session and I shared these notes on my blog, on the day of the event. Next time I will share stuff like this with a bit more notice.

There was some uncertainty at the beginning of the session. I wondered if I offered too many options for people to consider, and something similar was subsequently fed back to me. I can see how, in a short space of time, too many choices can create uncertainty. The following day I worked with another large group and I incorporated this feedback in to the new session. Still giving choices, fewer this time, plus an ‘anything you like’ option in case the choices on offer weren’t useful for everyone. This subsequent session seemed to flow more readily. Putting learning into practice.

Someone fed back to me that in my position as facilitator, I should never show uncertainty. I’ve thought long and hard about this, and I don’t agree. I am/we are uncertain at times, and I believe that uncertainty is an inherent part of my/our improvisational style. There’s a balance, as there is with most things, and I’m OK with people knowing that we are working on something about which I may be uncertain. The work is unfolding, and therefore not yet fully visible.

People really appreciate time with each other, several people expressed a wish for the conversation to continue for longer. I expect this is partly due to that fact that they were in control of the conversation, rather than being directed. I hear this sort of thing frequently, which prompts thoughts that more widely, we need to work harder on making the most of these experiences, perhaps through greater levels of cocreation?

Thank you to The LPI for the opportunity. Lots of people were kind to me after the session finished. They appreciated me for my use of humour, and willingness to try something different and go with the flow. Thank you for all the lovely feedback, I’m pleased our time together went well.

Further reading:

Loneliness. Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection

6 Ways To Improve Learning – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires;

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