As practitioners of Dialogue Education, we know that adults learn best through dialogue. As such, we aim provide many opportunities to engage with the content and each other, and to make meaning of it through conversation and meaningful learning tasks.
Sadly, this is not always the case in many training situations.
But in the spririt of Depreciative Inquiry (TM), I firmly believe that there is a lot that we can learn from our mistakes and the Worst Practices that we've all experienced. So, in the spririt of David Letterman's Top Ten List, here are....
The Top 10 Ways to Kill Dialogue in a Workshop....
1. Ask, “Are there any questions?” in a tone that suggests that they didn’t get it if they still have questions. Better yet, say, “Well, if there are no questions, then we can move on..”
2. Provide ambiguous directions for small group work so that people get really frustrated. Then, don't debrief their small group conversations together so that they realize that what they say in the groups really isn't important to you.
3. Promise to finish early if they don’t ask too many questions.
4. Ask closed and/or rhetorical questions, preferably obvious ones (e.g. What are the colours in a traffic light?), but failing that obscure impossible questions. "Can anyone tell me why organizations are like blue cheese....?". Keep fishing the right answer until someone provides it out of embarrassment or just to end the agony....
5. Assign 5 complex discussion questions to small groups of 5 people. Give them 10 minutes to discuss the questions and create an interpretive dance that highlights their key insights. (do the math…).
6. Tell the group that they have 20 minutes for a small group learning task and then cut it back to 10 minutes once you realize that you need to make up the time. Interrupt them if possible in mid-conversation by saying, "Folks, we REALLY need to move on to finish my agenda."
7. React judgementally, sarcastically and/or confrontationally to any wrong answers using verbal retorts and/or body language. Bonus points for rolled eyes, guffaws, or comments like, "I can see why you might think that, but you're wrong...."
8. Start off by saying, “I bet that you don’t know the answer to this question….”
9. Speak for a long time about something not relevant to the course (e.g. your vacation, the problem you had finding parking, the last group you worked with who were a pain in the butt...) and then make up the time by skipping the “optional” group exercises.
10. Stick fastidiously to your prepared PowerPoint slides and flash through them all to you can “cover the content” in the remaining time. End quickly with a brief mention of the questions in #1 while closing your laptop and turning off the projector. Grab you coat if they really don't get it.
The sad thing is that I've seen facilitators do all of these things. No wonder people are cynical about workshops.
Thankfully, there is a better way....
If you're not too depressed, please add your top tips for killing dialogue in the comments box below.