Adults follow instructions differently than children.
These statements sound like common sense; however, managers tend to teach and talk to adult workers as if they are children. This isn’t the fault of managers; this is how managers learned to manage—from people who taught applying pedagogy practices (pedagogy is the study on how children learn).
For example, at a meeting, I asked the 28 adult participants to move the tables and chairs into a different configuration. I even drew the configuration on the whiteboard. Some stood and looked like deer in headlights (they froze), others just sat there, and a few began trying to move the tables without moving chairs—no planning. It was a disaster with mass confusion.
Last year, I visited a 6th grade classroom at the invitation of my friend, Ken Rubin—the teacher. He invited me to talk about persuasion to the children. The first thing I did was to have them reconfigure the room of tables and chairs. I drew the picture on the board and those children got right at it with no hesitation. Within minutes, the room was rearranged and the children were all sitting at a table eagerly waiting on my next word.
The adults were still fiddling around after 5 minutes on how to proceed. They finally started talking to one another, and one person “stepped up” to be the leader and gave instructions. I simply sat back and watched.
After they finally got the room into my desired configuration, they were unsure where to sit. Finally, after a little over 10 minutes of fiddling around, we were ready to start the intended exercise. However, watching the uncertainty and the stress on the adult’s faces, it was clearly a learning opportunity.
I asked the group, why this seemingly easy task became so hard. I told them about the 6th grade class that completed the tasks in minutes with no hesitation. Some of the responses were, “I guess we’re not as smart as 6th grades,” “We weren’t sure what you wanted,” “I don’t know.” One adult suggested that she didn’t know why I was asking them to change the room. Bingo!
It’s not that 6th graders are smarter; it’s that they are willing to do what the teacher asks without question.
According to several adult learning theorists such as Malcom Knowles, Carl Rogers, Jerome Bruner, and Robert MacGregor, adults need to know the objective of the exercise first: why they are learning the concept, how will it benefit them, and how they can be involved in developing the process to get it done.
They pay off to managers from this example is the following:
- Give clear instructions and don’t assume the person(s) received the same message.
- Tell the group the objective of the task or learning
- Tell them how you plan to reach the objective with their cooperation
- Invite anyone in the group to offer a different or better idea on how to accomplish the task or learning
- Facilitate a discussion on the pros and cons of each idea.
- Settle on one idea
- Get started
- Evaluate after the task or learning is completed.
Applying these tips of Androgogy (the term coined by Malcom Knowles as the study of how adults learn) will make organizations more efficient, build teamwork, and help managers understand that their subordinates aren’t stupid; but, very intelligent critical thinkers.
The pay off non-managers can be applied to relationships:
- Be more empathetic to your significant other
- Do not look at her/him as stupid when they s/he doesn’t understand you
- Realize s/he is simply questioning why you are saying such and what do you mean in context.
- Be patient
- Repeat respectfully,
- Be open to his/her point of view
- Avoid defensiveness
- Avoid personal attacks
Try these tips with family, friends, and at work. You will see an improvement in all your relationships.