Loventrice Farrow works at Boeing as a HR communications specialist with over 20 years in HR and organizational development. She is a dissertation away from completing her PhD in Organizational Leadership. She can be reached via Linkedin and you can find out more about her experiences there.
Q. Loventrice, with all the work you’re putting into your PhD, we appreciate you for taking the time to share some of your knowledge. Is there a book that has influenced the way you approach corporate training?
Discussion as a Way of Teaching, by Stephen D. Brookfield and Stephen Preskill.
Q. What stuck with you after reading that book?
Brookfiend and Preskill talk about democratic discussion which they define as discussion that is open and fluid, building on the diverse experiences and interpretations of participants.
I think this is so important to training, especially given the diversity of our workplaces and subsequently our corporate training audiences. Traditional approaches to discussions might have sufficed in the past but today’s world demands more trainers who are aware of global linkages and are sensitive to the values and aspirations of people of other cultures. An important focus of democratic discussion, according to Brookfield and Preskill, should be on getting as many people as possible deeply engaged in the conversation. Trainers must be skilled at questioning, listening and responding during a discussion.
Q. Could you expand on the idea of democratic discussion? It might be new to many of our readers.
As part of my doctoral work, I conducted a qualitative study that explored the practices, attitudes, skills, knowledge and preparation of U.S. practitioners for training in other cultures and the key competencies they believe are needed to be effective global trainers. According to one respondent: “By far the most critical competency trainers must have are very good listening and communication skills.”
Study participants held jobs which required them to deliver training in different countries and to individuals with different values and orientations. They had to be prepared to understand, and not just label differences in cultures as they keep discussions going.
Q. Do you have any tips for incorporating democratic discussion into a formal training environment? Perhaps you have some experiences to share with our readers, who are mostly corporate trainers?
As a professional speaker and facilitator, I have had the opportunity to engage audiences in deep discussions on a variety of topics and what I apply from Brookfield and Preskill is the discussion activities of questioning, listening and responding to help maintain the momentum of conversations. I used to be uncomfortable with silence and felt that voids must be filled with continuous chatter—mostly my own. Sometimes the audience eventually joined in and sometimes the silence continued. However, a skillful trainer can keep discussions going by using some of the tactics outlined in the book.
I had to change how I thought about discussion and conversation understanding that just because someone wasn’t chatting away and responding to my every comment didn’t mean that they were not interested, didn’t want to be part of the discussion or add to the knowledge exchange. On the contrary, adults are able and generally willing to contribute their substantial experience to discussion and this shapes conversation quality and its path more definitively. Trainers and facilitators have to understand the delicate balance of democratic discussions, understanding that good discussions are unpredictable and surprising according to Brookfield and Preskill.
In sum, discussion is about interaction among the participants and constructing knowing and knowledge from the discussion. That’s what happens in training sessions…knowledge is constructed based on the discussions going on and trainers have to be skilled at engaging participants in this democratic activity.