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~ January 2002 ~
  • Encouraging Dialogue During Training
  • Leaders Are Lifelong Learners
  • Climbing Out of the Well

Encouraging Dialogue During Training

The trainer asks a question of the learners; and there is an agonizingly long silence. This is the nightmare for anyone who trains. Will the participants respond? Will a dialogue be created between trainer and learner or learner and learner? Here are some tips or hints on what has to be present in the learning environment for dialogue to be fruitful and multiply.

 Tips/Hints   Comments
  • Focus on commonalties, not disagreements.
  Start dialogue by discussing those issues where people agree. Save the divisive things for late in the training.
  • Use specific cases to raise general issues
  Most people develop their beliefs based on reality, not abstract thought. Case studies or real experiences can be used to help learners think through large issues.
  • Listen with empathy
  Discussion is like tennis-bat ideas or opinions back and forth. Dialogue requires the patience of empathy for the speaker's views or situation. Real dialogue comes when the trainer is motivated to respond empathetically to someone with whom they might disagree or find distasteful.
  • Be fair and do not compel
  Training adults means learners with widely varying skills, experience, status, and authority. Dialogue means trust must exist. The trainer cannot "play" to those in authority and expect to create a trustful atmosphere. Be fair and create an environment where all present are equals.
  • Encourage the building of relationships
  Many times adults arrive at training and sit with those they know, never venturing to meet new people. The trainer can enhance the climate for dialogue by encouraging activities that build relationships and humanize the environment.
  • Dialogue has three qualities: equality, empathetic listening, and being non-judgmental
  The trainer must monitor the classroom environment for the presence of all three to ensure the opportunity for dialogue to flourish.
  • Distinguish between the types of talking; discussion, dialogue, decision-making
  Dialogue works close to our value and belief system. The trainer's job is to clarify what type of talking is going on in the class. This helps everyone understand the appropriateness of responses.
  • Bring ideas or views out in the open for discussion
  Never assume that everyone agrees on a certain assumption. The learners might not be willing to bring up their own views, so the trainer must state assumptions so they can be discussed.
  • Clarify to reduce distortions
  Each learning group has different sub-cultures with different views. The trainer needs to clarify to reduce distortions. The trick is to clarify without identifying sub-groups or exhibiting the effort to engage the learners. Every effort takes place with an eye toward equality.
  • Engage those who disagree
  The entire group is impacted by how the trainer treats those who disagree. An effort to seek mutual understanding is a powerful example of the three dialogue principles at work.
  • Tackle areas of disagreement after group members have developed trust
  Dialogue can be compromised when there is no trust in a group. The trainer must monitor the group's willingness to tackle value and belief issues that are likely to raise the emotional level in the room.
  • Focus on conflicts of opinions or values, not on individuals
  Depersonalize conflicts. Help the learners separate between ideas or opinions being expressed and the person saying them. Remind people that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson disagreed on powerful ideas, but were fast friends until their deaths.

Leaders Are Lifelong Learners

Leaders are individuals who know they can never stop learning and are personally committed to self-improvement. This attitude is contagious. The volunteer manager who believes they still have things to learn sets an example for the volunteers and staff with whom they work. Here are four skills for the Leader/Learner.

  1. Be humble. Acknowledge that you do not have all the answers and are seeking new ideas to improve your life, your work, and your relationships.
  2. Identify personal prejudices. Most adults prefer certain ways to learn; reading, hearing, hands-on. A forward step in learning is to explore a learning method that is not your favorite. This increases versatility in gaining new information on a variety of topics.
  3. Gather unfiltered information. If information about your volunteers comes from reports, do something different this month. Walk around. Visit with supervisors of volunteers. Talk to people informally over coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. Read journals and magazines that contain the views of people with whom you might not agree.
  4. Look for the new way to think and do. Encourage dissenting views. Banish this sentence from your responses to new ideas, "We tried that two years ago and it didn't work." Be open to new ideas, even about things you are sure are "true."

Climbing Out of the Well

The long days of winter and let down from the holidays can sap your energy and make you feel sad. Here are some tips to keep yourself energized.

    • Call the most positive person you know and invite them to have lunch with you.
    • Build momentum in a project. Start with small steps and reward yourself as each step is accomplished.
    • Write down all the reasons why working will bring you benefits. (Hint-improve the relationship with your supervisor, make volunteers proud of our work, better meet the needs of clients, etc.)
    • Think back to when you loved this job. Remind yourself of what that felt like. Use the energy from that feeling to build new energy.
    • Keep a joy journal. On your computer or desk, write down one thing each day that gives you joy. Reread it on the days when you feel blue.


Close to 200 colleges and universities offer academic programs on nonprofit and volunteer sector management. They are usually master's degree programs, but not always. American Humanics sponsors undergraduate programs, as well. If you are looking to push out the professional development window, consider taking a course at one of these colleges. A full list resides at Thank Roseanne Mirabella, of Seton Hall University for keeping up with this list.

Copyright 2002 by Nancy Macduff.