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I reckon we all try to be generous and decent when we teach. Same when we run groups, or meetings. Any time we’re guiding the room, we want to be good people.

We want to be open, considerate, encouraging. To empower! We want everyone to feel they’ve been able to make a contribution and go away smiling.

We want to feel good and for people to think we’re good. It’s not narcissism. It’s just trying to do good work — maximum good and minimum harm.

Some days, why is that SO DAMN HARD?

In a work meeting, if I meet push-back or encounter radically different perspectives, I can at least accept that a colleague with different skills is going to enhance my viewpoint. The argument that’s emerging might be productive.

That’s so much harder when you’re teaching or directing/managing a process.

You sketch out a route.
You define objectives.
You create strategies to get there.
You understand desired outcomes.

Prepared, you go in front of the people you are guiding/teaching and…..



They do NOT engage.

Sometimes the whole group doesn’t engage.

Sometimes an individual switches off or disrupts.

At worst, the group seems to want to engage, but an influential individual decides he/she is going to obstruct, and swings the whole group ‘against’ you.

Oh the temptation to scream — ‘do what you’re f*ck*ng told!!’

Or: ‘I know what I’m doing!’

I’ve screamed it many times, luckily only silently to myself……

When I find that sort of frustration rising, I don’t feel good. The first temptation is to blame the group….. ‘they’ve got an attitude problem’, ‘they need more discipline’, ’s/he’s arrogant’, ‘I’m asking too much of them because, after all, they’re not a very good group….’

The second is to blame myself: ‘I should have prepared better’, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here’, ‘I’m a fraud’ (I reserve that one for days when I’m feeling really rough….)

I tell myself I know what I’m doing.
I say my plan’s a good one.
I say I AM listening to the class.
I AM respecting them.

Then I’ll either sulkily give up my plan and (silently) say they don’t deserve me, or I’ll double down, dig in and go to war with the group. Sometimes I’ll even win that war.

This much is for sure — when a disconnect opens up between me and people I’m guiding, it doesn’t feel good.

However much I try to pretend it’s not the case — the truth is, I am — at least in part — responsible.

Not ‘to blame’ but, in part, responsible.

It’s really useful to ask myself in that situation some simple questions.

Have I helped the group or person understand WHY they should choose to engage?

‘Conceptual’ understanding isn’t enough. It’s not enough to say ‘You’ll get a good exam result if you do this or you’ll be punished if you don’t’.
Have I helped them FEEL that RIGHT NOW participating is something that will give them greater rewards than resisting?

Have I considered in what way a group or individual might feel threatened by participating?

Does the work require self-exposure?

If it does, however ‘safe’ I tell them the space is, they risk feeling ashamed.

Does the work mean they will learn something about themselves?

If so, I’m asking them to change how they see the world. Changing paradigms is scary. We all resist it. Are they ready to change?

Do I have the right to ask them to change?

Or do I need to spend longer preparing them for the process of changing?

Am I really present with the disruptive individual or with the group?

Am I responding to them AS THEY ARE TODAY, or ‘leading’ them as I think they ought to be?

These questions can be as confronting to me as I’m being to my students. On bad days, (which God knows, we all have…..), the temptation is just to blame the student. The temptation is to scream ‘JUST DO WHAT YOU’RE TOLD’.

Tempting but not smart.
Not productive.
Not efficient.
Not reasonable.

So what to do when facing the brick wall of disengaged students or colleagues?

If I want to get somewhere and the road I plan to use is blocked, there are two useful questions to ask before I create a new route:

WHY am I going there (in other words: is it worth the effort or is there somewhere easier, more useful or more interesting to go?).
HOW do I travel? What methods do I have? How can I use my methods differently without changing, fundamentally, who I am and what I do?

This is what I call the ‘WHY & HOW Approach’. It’s about always having a foundation to return to. It gives me a clear structure to hold onto when circumstances force me to question whether tried-and-trusted methods are working with a particular group at a particular time.

Do you know your WHY and HOW?
At the deepest level?
Why do you do what you do?
Why do you do it with one sort of person, not with another?
What are your fundamental approaches to achieving your objectives?
When WHAT you do, suddenly is not working, can you take a deep breath and find a new way to reach your destination?

Your WHY and HOW are your compass and map when you’re lost.
Don’t leave home without them.

Of course, none of this means there’s not huge benefit in screaming ‘JUST DO WHAT YOU’RE TOLD!’. But keep it inside, breathe, then get on with doing your work brilliantly…..

Stay safe out there


I offer a clear guide to developing your own WHY and HOW (as well as understanding WHO, WHERE and WHAT) in my book ‘How To Teach Performance’. It’s a step-by-step guide to designing and delivering performance workshops. You can get hold of it in E-book or Print form. Just go here. Give it a go!

If you have specific questions you want to dig into, I do one-on-one or small group mentorship with limited number of people. Fill in this very short form and let me know what you are looking for and then set up a zoom call with me to explore possibilities.



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