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Starting with a Story

By Sharon Mulé, Staff Development Coordinator

“I start my classes with a story.”

This is one person’s reflection on how their work has changed as a result of the 2016 Qualey-Skjervold Professional Development Conference. Many other comments mentioned listening to stories, telling “my” story, listening to others, and taking time to make connections.

Sometimes the images we present to others
are influenced by those around us.
For example, another trainer felt I needed a necklace
for this photo and lent me her pearls to wear.
These ideas resonate with me: I don’t think people really know you until you are willing to unpack your story a bit. And if they don’t know you, will they be willing to make the behavior changes you’re teaching or training about?

Coming to a new job, a new class, a new group may be intimidating. From the color of your skin, the clothes you wear, the accent you have, and the things they think they hear you say, people may make an assessment of who you are, what you think, and why you live where you live.

To look at me, you might imagine that I am pretty comfortable in a cube — but not really. I came to this job after working for many years as a trainer. It’s really different for me to be in a cube and not out in the community with people or flying all over the country.

I often think about many of you who are out teaching and training people every day and wonder what it’s like for you. I am use to facilitating long training sessions, six hours or more, across multiple days. A few years ago, I started sitting on a stool in front of the group for some of the time I was training. I noticed that this physical change shifted the dynamic of the room: sitting brought me physically and emotionally closer to my participants and created a better connection. I also noticed the training became more interactive, more of a dialog, more of a process of learning together.

I then started using a training activity called “Guess Who.” For this activity, participants wrote one interesting, anonymous fact about themselves on an index card. Throughout the days of training, I would read an anonymous fact to the group and they would guess who wrote it. (The participants could choose what they wanted to write on the card and if they wanted to participate.) Groups loved this storytelling activity. It helped break the ice and got people to unpack their stories with each other.
Photo credit: iStock by Getty Images

George Lakey, author and trainer, calls this type of training activity “Creating a Safe Container.” He says the learning environment is a bit like a container. Participants and facilitators fill the space within the environment and create a space where experience meets learning. Facilitators work to create a space where people feel free to be themselves, express their feelings, and relate their experiences.

When we are working together in groups — either in a teaching or training situation or within Family Development — remember that simply delivering programming or talking business won’t result in behavior change. We need to tell our stories — perhaps more than once — to understand our colleagues and community consultants and effect meaningful change.

“I was impressed and surprised by the moments where people spoke about their own tough experiences in both their personal and work lives so freely,” another person reflected in the conference evaluation. “These moments stood out to me because it showed how much they care about their job and how they truly want to see the world grow into a better place.”

Let’s allow each ourselves and each other the opportunity to speak, listen, and grow.
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