I was helping a colleague teach an instructional design workshop, and the room was full of experienced instructional designers whose supervisor had felt they could use a refresher. A bunch of them were sitting back in their chairs with their arms folded. When I asked them to wear nametags they rolled their eyes at me. Uh oh.
After watching for a while, I got up and told a story. “A couple months ago, my colleagues and I were required to sit through a webinar to get certified to use a particular assessment tool,” I told them. “The trainer made us do things like introduce ourselves and say what we wanted to get out of the training, and we rolled our eyes at each other and whispered jokes about how we might sneak out of the room without the trainer knowing. And then it struck me how funny this all was, so I made a little sign and held it up for my colleagues to read; it said, ‘We make our living as trainers, but god forbid anyone should try to train us.’ My sign got a laugh out of everyone, but it also made us think about the fact that training participants always have a choice. You can make the session be a waste of your time, or you can think about how to contribute. Maybe you really won’t get anything out of it, but there are probably less experienced people in the room who could benefit from your experience.”
My story had exactly the effect I had hoped. Arms uncrossed and chairs tipped back down. There were indeed a bunch of less experienced folks in the room, including instructors, programmers and multi-media people, and the developers in the room began to think about how they could help us bridge the gap between the theory we were presenting and the reality of doing instructional design within that particular organizational culture. And for the rest of the session they contributed their insights and engaged in lively discussion.
But this isn’t really a story about the power of storytelling, because we all know about that. It’s a story about how arrogant we can be in our business sometimes. Next time you catch yourself rolling your eyes, think about how you can contribute. It’s a better choice.