Just about an hour into a workshop session for teachers, we were having the participants write a short reflection on their teaching rituals. Suddenly, out from the last table in the hall, this guy comes walking towards me. He looked like a leaner version of Rajesh Hamal, only a bit shorter, possibly a lot meaner.
He blurts out: “You know I’m also a teacher trainer. What you have been doing is quite boring. In my training sessions, I use a lot of movie clips and motivational clips to motivate the teachers. Why don’t you use such videos?”
I didn’t see that coming at all. I mean, it’s just been an hour.
In the last four years that I’ve been working as a teacher-trainer, I’ve never had a participant come to me and throw such a blunt comment. That too in just the opening hour of a two-day long workshop. And, the workshop we designed was based on their own needs analysis. What went wrong? Where did we go wrong? Stunned, I started fumbling for a response.
Suddenly my thoughts, like dozens of snakes, started hissing and coiling simultaneously in the both sides of my brain.
The nasty ones first.
“Oh so you’re that typical cynical jerk who is going to whine about the workshop because you think you are Mr. Know-it-all.”
“You don’t know anything about our workshop content, methodology, and beliefs. So shut the hell up.”
“Alright. You’ve got the home ground advantage. And you’re trying to make the two days hell for us.”
Then, a bit sensible ones.
“Hang on. Just listen — calm down — just listen — don’t react. Don’t say anything stupid. Smile and thank him for the comment.”
“Oh this guy must be trying to be helpful. And because of my own ego and biases, I might have taken his comment as a personal attack. I should be thankful and that’s all.”
I guess the sensible thoughts saved me eventually.
With each workshops and training sessions, I have somehow learned to keep my cool and delay my reaction. I accept that I can’t make everyone happy. I can’t switch everyone’s “Learning Mode” on easily. Also, I’ve come to understand that people behave only in the way they know how to behave – they might act disruptive, but they aren’t disruptive people. They are simply people. Re-framing such experience and forcing myself to normalize the incidents have really helped me understand that human behavior is utterly complex.
So, I simply acknowledged his comment.
“Thank you for your comment so early in the session. We don’t have tons of videos to show but we do use a few ones. May be we should someday join your training sessions and learn how to use motivational videos.”
I have no idea what he had hoped to achieve with his comment. I did slightly lose my train of thought and it took me a few minutes to gain my momentum back. But I was thankful to that experience. I realized that the lightening could strike anytime from any direction. As workshop facilitators, we just need to anticipate the strike and stay prepared.
After he went back, I also realized, scanning through the participants’ faces and body language, many were still tangled in confusion about the bigger picture of the workshop. If the participants are feeling shaky about the journey, I should be responsible for their feeling.
I made an impromptu attempt to give them a short pep-talk.
“If you trust us enough to be in this hall and if you are willing to spend two days with us, then believe us – this initial confusion is very natural. Imagine that we are all heading towards Pokhara from Kathmandu by bus. And we get stuck at Thankot. We cannot escape this horrible traffic jam until we cross the Thankot check post. I can totally emphatize with you right now. Your confusion and your frustration. But also understand this. Only through this necessary discomfort and initial confusion, will we be able to gain new perspective and knowledge. Just imagine the thrill of reaching our destination Pokhara, and chilling at the lake side.”