“Is it just me or do any of you also wonder if we could have held this meeting on the telephone or online, without all the cost and time of coming together?” That was a question raised near the end of a meeting I recently attended and one I’ve heard in many similar settings where people reflected on the groups success. While several of my colleagues stifled gasps, I admitted the question resonated with me. The prior day I had asked myself if this was a good use of our time and if we were learning more together than we could have through other means. Personally, I was thrilled that someone had the courage to speak their truth, even if it was difficult for others to hear, because it began to set a precedent for us to advocate for our own needs in a setting where we are also trying to serve the group.
For the past 15 years I’ve focused my attention on how to liberate the learner in each of us in order for individuals to be able to be better at whatever they are called to do. The desire to help others learn has drawn me to facilitate many large groups meetings, coach leaders interested in new forms of organization, and write about finding more people-centric ways to work. In each setting I’m asked to help find a balance between the chaos of each person doing precisely what they want to do and the rigidity of everyone doing enough of what others need them to do. While most facilitators look at group dynamics first, I look at individual styles differences to help people know themselves and how they can advocate and mediate for themselves at the most local or personal level. Although there are many different ways to categorize individual styles, the two I find most applicable to learning in meeting are motivation styles and direction styles.
Once you see your style differences, you can learn more about how you learn and how you can make learning and meeting with others more efficient, effective, and enjoyable.
Motivation style—that which educed us to want to learn more and work together—appear in almost every meeting and conversation. For some people energy comes from achieving a certain goal and the ability to progress to another level. For others, delight comes because you truly enjoy learning new things. A third group is drawn by the pleasure of meeting other people and building relationships in learning situations.
If you’re Goal-oriented, you’re likely to reach for your goal through almost any means available. You seek the clearest path, which might lead you directly to your computer or calling an expert in the field. The only time an in-person meeting works best for you when no other means could work as efficiently.
If you’re Learning-oriented, the practice of learning, itself, drives you. You search for knowledge for its own sake and may become frustrated by anything that requires you to spend more time on procedure and process than on actual learning.
If you’re Relationship-oriented, you take part in learning mainly for social contact—you meet and interact with people and learn things along the way. You may not much like working independently or focusing on topics (separate from the people) because it doesn’t give you the interactivity you crave.
One way to address different styles is to attend to what people draw from working together. For instance, express to goal-oriented learners that relationship-oriented learners wouldn’t likely participate without some face-to-face time and that you’ll keep meetings as short as practical. Point out learning moments to those with a learning-oriented bend, and remind the relationship-oriented that goal- and learning-oriented people are interested in working together provided the group also helps them meet additional ends.
The other style that frequently surfaces in meeting involves the direction you prefer to receive and review new information. Some people learn in a global way, first seeing the “big picture” and then linking together broad concepts in large leaps. Others learn in a linear fashion, by taking a series of small, incremental steps toward a goal. Everyone has both global and linear qualities, but some have a distinct preference for one over the other.
If you’re a Global learner, you may need to understand how what you’re working on relates to you what you know or have experienced before spending time with the details. Sometimes, you may not be able to go on in a conversation when you just can’t grasp the point of it all. Once you do, though, you may quickly be able to make new connections and put things together in original ways.
If you’re a Linear learner, you may know that you don’t need to understand something completely in order to dig in, although you do probably want plenty of details and facts as you go. You may prefer step-by-step instructions and may find that you absorb materials in small interconnected bits. You’re probably good at solving problems, even when you don’t wholly understanding the topic, if solutions are orderly and easy to follow.
Because these styles can run so counter to one another, in meetings I encourage people to introduce anything new with a glimpse of the bird’s eye perspective. Linear learners typically have the patience to listen and global learners need it to move on. If you help both groups get what they need, you’ll find that there is less positioning that comes from just misunderstanding what’s going on.
By appreciating your own style and working to look from other’s perspectives you can help strengthen group dynamics and help everyone learn.
Marcia L. Conner is a facilitator, coach and writer living in Virginia. She is author of Learn More Now: 10 Simple Steps to Learning Better, Smarter, and Faster (Wiley, 2004) and the forthcoming Creating a Learning Culture (Cambridge, 2004). Reach her directly at www.marciaconner.com.