Conflict traps for the learning and development professional and presenter

#Chat2lrn is delighted to have a guest post from @NeilDenny.  Neil is the founder of allLD LTD Learning and Development.  He is a speaker and presenter specialising in conflict leadership skills and dynamics, delivering workshops, keynotes and one to one conflict skills coaching across the UK, Europe and America. Neil is also the author of the conflict resolution book “Conversational Riffs; Creating Meaning Out Of Conflict”, you can download a free PDF copy by going to” . Neil can be contacted at  

A recent conversation on Facebook caught my attention. The original poster was explaining a challenge he was facing. He had recently delivered some leadership skills training. As part of the program he explored mirroring and matching as a way of building rapport.

He went on to explain that “Some of the more religious Christians” in the group fed back that they thought the methods were “Morally wrong, manipulative and deceptive.”

In summarising his post he asserted that he had always seen himself as being “A highly moral person” who “Believed in doing what is right for people” before inviting responses.

It has so far received over 70 responses!

The conversation covers various areas – the use of NLP, delivery techniques, framing and such like. In this article I want to focus specifically on presenters and trainers can encounter conflict in our work and how we tend to perceive, react and respond to conflict.

Here was my original response:

You know there could be some neat conflict dynamics at play here but then I would say that; some delegates report that they find a technique – not you, a technique – to be manipulative and possibly immoral. You respond by defending your own character not only as a moral individual but, look, Highly Moral. Are you sure you were ever being criticised? We then also see a degree of fundamental attribution against the critics – you attribute their criticism, it seems directly to the fact that they have not only a Christian faith but, again, the inflated characteristic – the *more* religious Christians. So some folk don’t like mirroring and matching and feel uneasy about using it? Some folk didn’t like a part of what you presented? That too is just fine. Keep going.

Transference of criticism

Note how the feedback is seemingly against the content but it has been interpreted as an attack against the individual.

Concerns are expressed that the techniques are dubious and that has been acutely felt as a personal attack.  In an instant the criticisms levelled against the content have been taken on by the presenter.

And note the response – a reflex defensive counter assertion and that delightful over assertion at that.

See how language very quickly becomes exaggerated and inflated.  We often use this inflated and absolutist language (always/never) as it seems to make our positions clearer and more immune to attack. 

The invocation of indignation

I love the invocation of indignation.  We can recognise it very quickly in the utterance “How dare you!” and it is brilliantly demonstrated in that classic adolescent educational video Withnail and I.  Here’s a clip which is always worth shoehorning into any article (warning: its potty mouthed stuff)

The invocation of indignation is a neat device by which the indignant speaker can snatch back momentum and forces the recipient onto the defensive.  The result is that original complaint is quickly lost by the effective distraction created by the vehement indignation asserted by the other.

In fairness the post did not assert “How dare they call me immoral…” but you can see that it is intimated.

Attribution Bias

Attribution error or bias is a recognised cognitive dysfunction.

It sees us, when conflict arises, explaining the actions of another person by attributing motives or characteristics to that person.  These motives and characteristics will usually be unattractive or malevolent.

In this article an attribution appeared to have been made as follows:

“The reason they were objecting to the material was because of the characteristic of being “The more religious Christians in the group.”

When we attribute characteristics in this way then we explain away the feedback or incident.  We also risk dismissing the protagonist along with their concerns.  This can be very difficult and create seriously soured relationships between you and your delegates.

When we attribute characteristics then we create a sense of “Otherness” between us and them.  We render them as being different to not only us but the rest of their group and peers.  A very high risk strategy.  You will either successfully isolate them from their peers causing acute embarrassment and distress or their peers rush to their defence and reclaim them as one of their own… and you as the outsider.


The very posting of this discussion was also interesting.  It can be seen as an attempt to recruit likeminded people to our side of this conversation.   Note the role of the language used in doing – the over assertions as to morality, the designation of tribes based on characteristics as discussed above.  The 70+ responses then become fascinating in their own right.  Many commentators are happy to play out that invitation, supporting the original poster in a possible desire for affirmation that “It’s not me is it?”

This recruitment technique can be seen in presentations and live events when the presenter looks to the delegate group to back her or him up, again with possibly disastrous results.

5 tips on receiving challenges

  1. Be clear on what is being challenged. Chances are it is your content, not you.  Hold your content lightly.
  2. Be mindful of conflict dynamics. Particularly watch out for attribution bias – the impression you form of them in that split second after they have given their feedback or asked their question.
  3. Know when the knife goes in. Acknowledge to yourself that the comment made by the other person hurts or, at the very least, feels uncomfortable. Doing so will put you on guard that you need to be really careful right now. Try making your discomfort explicit, calling it out to the rest of the group. Some of my very best experiences come from doing just this.

    “Oh, ow. That’s an interesting point isn’t it?  So what I’m hearing is that this might not actually work here, is that right?  In what ways might it not work or not apply here? What would make it work or what would need to change?”

    These responses are key facilitation skills and also invite the delegates to build upon their existing knowledge, building your new content upon the platform of what they already know, believe and experience in their own context… and how valuable is that

  4. Smile to yourself as you recognise the temptation to invoke indignation.  And then choose not to!
  5. Give up on your need for them to learn.  Your need is to deliver the very best that you can and to make the learning (by them) possible or even, heck, likely.  The learning is their responsibility and choice.  You cannot make them learn.  I think there is something in always aspiring to deliver brilliant work that will enlighten, equip and enable others.  As long as you know that you have acted out that intent honestly then we can start to let go of our dependency on them blessing us with their learning.  The funny thing is that when we stop pushing the learning and instead join them in wrestling with the material (“Heck, this is really difficult isn’t it…?  I didn’t explain that very well did I?  Somebody help me out here… what am I missing do you think?) then the learning experience flies – even after it has just crashed and burned after a particularly barbed response.

Design Shortcuts for Surviving in the Real Worldcuts

Whechallenge1n we study design, we learn rigorous methods based upon sound research and elegant theory.  Then we hit the real world and are faced with deadlines, limited resources, and unrealistic demands.  How do we cope?  We generally choose some design shortcuts,

We generally choose some design shortcuts, heuristics, that give us what we believe to be suitable approximations to what we’d prefer to do in a perfect world.  These heuristics, experience-based solutions which may not be optimal but are often good enough to get the work completed, are often unexamined.

Our major steps in designing learning, whether ADDIE or SAM, still (or should) require determining meaningful objectives, creating essential practice, providing conceptual guidance and supporting examples, and creating a learning experience.  However, we might not do the full cognitive task analysis, simulation-based practice, model-based concepts, story-based examples, etc.  Some of our shortcuts are well-founded, yet some might also preclude us from exploring more effective alternatives.  Still, we need to be conscious of the tradeoffs.

For example, rapid e-learning tools make it easy to capture knowledge, present it, and test it.  Yet how often is knowledge the real barrier to success in performance?  Most of the research suggests that, instead, the emphasis should be on the ability to apply knowledge, not just recite it.  Knowledge alone isn’t sufficient for the ability to use the knowledge to meet workplace needs.  Do we find effective ways to even use these tools or are we just putting content on pages?

We need to be conscious of the shortcuts we take, the tradeoffs they entail, and reflect from time to time on where our practice in regards to where it could, and should, be.  What are the shortcuts we’re taking, and what are the assumptions they encompass?

This post was written by Clark Quinn, who is directing this week’s #chat2lrn tweetchat. Thank you, Clark, for your contribution!

Dear Phil: A letter to a colleague about Design Thinking and L&D


Mark Sheppard is the Training Coordinator for Northern Lights Canada in Oshawa, ON. Learn more about Mark at

Originally posted on The Hitch Hiker's Guide to Learning:

Dear Phil:

Always great to hear from you, and I’m sharing some of my thoughts and findings from the Design Thinking MOOC I tackled a little while back. I’m glad you asked me to do this, and I hope you don’t object to the approach, but I figure this “letter” will let me get into a little more detail and spark a some Q&A.

So, here goes.

As you know, particularly in our time on that joint ID project in 2011, I’m a big fan of rapid, and flexible, processes. Yeah, I know that I was a little platform focused at the time, but I really wanted to get away from that slow, deliberate, linear design process that just doesn’t play nicely with the complexities of online asset development.  The rapid prototyping model I espoused was, on reflection, good for sparking some thoughts about different ways to do things, and…

View original 1,114 more words

eLearning Trends: Looking Back and Looking Forward

Today’s post comes to us from #chat2lrn crew members, Andrea May and Lisa Goldstein. Andrea is the Vice President of Instructional Design Services for Dashe & Thomson in Minneapolis, MN and Lisa is the founder of and currently works for Nielsen. You can find Andrea and Lisa on twitter at @Andreamay1 and @LisaAGoldstein

Happy New Year!Happy-New-Year-Copy

It is the start of a new year and we would like to spend a little time looking back at what we learned in 2014 and looking forward to what we hope to learn in 2015.

As we first look back at the year that was, some of the most common trends we saw discussed included MOOCs, video, performance support, social learning, adaptive learning and the science of learning. Read more here:

Learning Technologies 2014: Eight Key Trends for Learning and Development

Learning Technology Trends in 2014

As we look forward to 2015, some new trends on the horizon seem to be wearable learning, School as a service (SaaS), Microlearning, Personalization and Minimum Viable Courses (MVCs). Read More Here:

Top 8 eLearning and EdTech Trends for 2015

What will be big in workplace learning in 2015?

Technology-Enabled Learning: What Will 2015 Bring?

Join us on January 15th for #Chat2lrn to discuss what we learned and accomplished in 2014 and what we hope to achieve in the coming year.

Learned Helplessness of Learning

This post was written by Nick Leffler (@technkl) and Mark Britz (@britz).

Discovery and exploration is how we learn about the world from the start. Then comes the formal education, where we’re told what to learn and when to learn it.

Recall the days of high school when you travelled from class to class, instruction neatly modularized into timed categories of science, math, art, etc. There’s one flaw to this formula, we don’t learn in a modularized way.

Over the years of formal education we’ve been conditioned to believe that we learn  when it’s the determined time and place to learn. As kids we explored, before we’re indoctrinated  by the formalities of formal education. Exploration and determining our path in learning is how we learn, exploring our environment.

In a natural progression, Learning & Development has moved to fill the gap of formal learning from school education to organization learning.

Defining Learned Helplessness

With this said about the flow of formal, constrained learning, it’s easy to see a systemic development of learned helplessness and how it affects the ability to own ones learning.

Learned Helplessness contains three elements:

Contingency: There is an uncontrollable contingency, meaning there is a random relationship between the action and the outcome.1

Example: If what is being learned is not deemed important by an authority it is diminished in value (color within the lines!)

Cognition: A person sees a controllable event as uncontrollable (or vice versa) and uses that experience to form future expectations even though they may change.1

Example: Individual was previously reprimanded for using social networks while at work, rather than explaining the learning benefits to change the situation they refrain from doing so in the future because authority figures look negatively on those not following procedure/protocol in organizations.

Behavior: Passive vs active behavior in a situation different from a previous experience which was learned as uncontrollable.1

Example: Rather than continue self-service, individual succumbs to peer/authority pressure OR when needing to develop a new skill, one turns to L&D and a request for training over other options.

To simplify, Learned Helplessness is defined as:

“a phenomenon in which individuals gradually, usually as a result of repeated failure or control by others, become less willing to attempt tasks.” (D.D. Smith, 2001)

There’s an immediate connection between Learned Helplessness and applying it to learning. This connection forms the foundation of Learned Helplessness of Learning.

Learned or Created

Where does this Learned Helplessness of Learning begin and how is it drilled into our heads?

Is Learned Helplessness of Learning learned or created? In other words, are we taught to rely on formal routes for learning or does the reliance subconsciously occur over time from exposure? Or both?

Whatever the answer, exposure to formal routes of learning and learning not to seek own answers has a detrimental effect. People lose the ability to seek answers and explore the world, rather relying on others to provide them the answer.

No longer is learning that thing we did when we were a child, that learning experience we called life. There’s something to learn from children and their natural curiosity. They have a limitless interest in the world and  know nothing about when and where learning should take place. How do we awaken the child within?

The Challenge

One of the challenges of overcoming Learned Helplessness of Learning  is what’s known as cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance prevents a person from recognizing that there is a problem with being reliant on formal instruction. It somehow becomes okay to rely on formal instruction which becomes the only way to learn a new topic. Additionally, leaders justify and support training over other avenues due to the financial investments they made in it.

Being taught that there are few options when it comes to learning can have detrimental effects on a person. The Arden House Nursing Home was a study where two floors were each given different choices (one had a choice, one the lack of). In the end, knowing there is a choice had a positive health effect. Knowing there is a choice of how, when, and from whom you can learn could have positive organizational  effects.

Learn Free

We’re confident this topic will make everyone think about how Learning & Development has filled the role of schools for global organizations, as it did us. A role that perpetuates the dependency on formal instruction.

Take this question Mark proposed and think about how L&D currently operates in many organizations. Think how we can change it to focus on empowering people to learn. What can we do to support employees to support themselves and overcome learned helplessness of learning?


  1. Peterson, Christopher, Steven F. Maier, and Martin E. P. Seligman. Introduction. Learned Helplessness: A Theory for the Age of Personal Control. New York: Oxford UP, 1993. 8-9. Print.

Benefits of PLN, Community and Professional Organizations

Today’s post comes to us from #chat2lrn crew member, Meg Bertapelle. Meg is a Senior Instructional Designer of Clinical and Product Education at Intuitive Surgical, a medical device company which makes the da Vinci Surgical System. You can find her on twitter at @megbertapelle


I just got back from attending the DevLearn conference and I’ve been struggling to pull together my “take-aways” for the last week (while also trying to catch up at work after being gone for a week). My gut was telling me that the best part was the people – but is that really OK? I mean, my company paid a lot of money to send me to this conference, and the best part was the people?

#chat2lrn pre-chat LIVE at #DevLearn 14

#chat2lrn pre-chat LIVE at #DevLearn 14
Thanks to @tomspiglanin for the picture via Twitter :)

 For me, it really is true. The sessions might have been the spark, but the conversations and connections with all of these great smart people really were the best part. I was able to connect with people in person that I normally only communicate with over the internet. While we have become great friends and I respected and trusted them all before I met them in person, the connection was much stronger, and our communication was more efficient, in person. We’ll leave THAT distinction for another chat (maybe talk to Helen Blunden), but my point is that meeting people in person (or seeing them again in person) this time has really brought home to me that I would not be anywhere NEAR as good an instructional designer, employee, problem solver – and even thinker – without my Personal Learning Network (PLN). Whoever first said “we are smarter than me” is SO right. (btw, apparently there’s a book – I haven’t read it, but I should put it on my list!)

 I have always captured some great information and ideas from attending a conference. In fact the first conference I went to was DevLearn in 2010. The sessions I went to and people I met (can’t possibly name them all) are the whole reason I am here today, part of the #chat2lrn crew, writing a blog for a Twitter chat where we can discuss and debate really interesting things with really smart people. The great ideas don’t wait for a conference though – people in the L+D community, in my PLN, come up with ideas, share interesting stuff and have wonderful debates and discussions on Twitter, or Skype, or LinkedIn, or Google+, and it’s happening ALL THE TIME. Without this community (that’s you!), I might still be creating really horrible training materials and calling them good! LOL

So thank you, all of you, for being the greatest benefit of all in my career. Thank you for allowing me to tag along – and possibly contribute in some small way – with your PLN. 

What about you? What have you found to be the benefits of having a PLN, or participating in a community or professional organization?

Let’s discuss during #chat2lrn on Nov. 13th, 8:00 PST/11:00 EST/16:00 GMT. Hope to see you there!


What Spooks Us and Others about Social Learning

As Halloween approaches, we’re thinking about what spooks us and others about social learning.    Often, we’re scared of the unknown as we’re thinking about creating social learning.  Getting social learning set up properly and then gaining traction can be a real challenge.  And, what if launching and marketing isn’t your problem – what if your social learning efforts are wildly successful and then you lose control – is that OK?

Well, don’t be too frightened since social learning can come to the rescue for many of these questions.  As we support each other in our learning network during #Chat2Lrn, we’ll help each other think about these challenges and the best ways to overcome these fears and make social learning work for all of us.  We’ll be thinking about:

  • What scares you about getting social learning started and keeping it going?
  • Who and what needs to be at the social learning party in order for it to be successful?
  •  What makes social learning fail?
  • What is your scariest social learning (mini) story and what did you learn from it?  
  • What scares participants, lurkers and non-participants about social learning? Can you make them feel safe?
  • What spooks stakeholders about social learning? How can we reassure them?
  • What keeps SMEs from participating?  What can we do to do encourage them?
  • What is the secret sauce in a successful social learning brew?     
  •  How do you measure the effectiveness of your SoMe effort?

Whether you’ve never considered social learning, if you’re hearing stirs of social learning on the horizon, you’re in the middle of trying to set up social learning or if you’re an experienced coordinator – join us for #Chat2lrn this Thursday, October 30th (the day before Halloween) 9:00am PDT/12:00pm EDT/4:00pm GMT to share your fears, ideas and learned solutions.