Adult learning, Emotion, Nonprofits

Emotions in Learning: Ok, but how do I do that?

EmotionsA few months ago, I presented to nonprofit colleagues about learning and the power of emotions. One said, “Okay, I get it. Emotions are important in learning. But how do we do that? It seems weird to overly emote in the middle of a training?” True. Don’t start howling in the middle of a training. Let’s think of it in a larger frame: How do we engage emotions in moving people to action? What role do emotions play as they form habits, change behavior, and bring learning into the life of their organizations?

Here’s how, I say. We consider what we teach and how we teach. (Teacher folks call this curriculum and instruction; workshop presenters think in terms of content and presentation style. What and how.)

WHAT WE TEACH

Delivering an effective workshop starts with an understanding of the audience: who is sitting in those seats, what is their reality, and how do they feel about what you are trying to teach them. Adults come to learning with a lot more emotion than children do. They have developed a fear of math, a sense of overwhelm when it comes to sorting out complex human challenges (like nonprofit boards), or a feeling of powerlessness when talking about the law and compliance issues. They have a long memory about someone who did something, or of something they tried to no avail. Nonprofit folks also have deeply rooted commitment to fixing problems based on life experiences, whether positive or negative. They exude a passion for their mission, a heartfelt love of the work that sustains them through the work of raising money or volunteering long hours. Emotions both drive and discourage people from taking action.

Emotions are really important to honor and harness in adult learning. That is why the design teams I led working on nonprofit board, finance, and law toolkits began with an understanding of the emotions that people bring to these topics. Here are some examples of how emotion was incorporated into these kits:

People tend to feel… fear overwhelm powerlessness
When talking about    . finance (yikes, money!) boards law and compliance
To honor this feeling, I… Make them laugh;

Use familiar language (i.e. family budgets)

Use language that simplifies;

Avoid the word should

Use language of empowerment

How do you do this? Think about something that you want others to learn. Complete these sentences.

People tend to feel…
When talking about    .
I can honor this feeling by

HOW WE TEACH

The best educators I know exude love when they teach. They make it clear from the moment they begin their presentation that they are on the side of everyone in the room. An effective teacher builds an emotional connection very quickly with the participants in their session.

How do we do that?

  • We draw out their why. Simon Sinek explains the power of starting with why on his viral TED talk. Why grabs people by the heart, and it is the heart that motivates us to action.
  • We demonstrate that we know where they are coming from. We show that we have been “in the trenches” ourselves, we do advance research, lead “right-off-the-bat” conversations that get them talking, and name and discuss the emotion that they are bringing to the topic today. We become an ally.
  • We give hope. Often in the form of case studies or stories, we create the space where participants feel hope that they will do better because they came today. They see that others have done it, and they can do it too. They build confidence by seeing concrete, doable steps forward.
  • We honor and celebrate diversity. There is a full range of diversity factors in any workshop, from demographic diversity to professional experience to the life cycle of the organizations represented in the room. It is impossible to present one workshop that satisfies the needs of all. One way to come closer to satisfying them, however, is to acknowledge the diversity and give permission for people to start from where they are. We invite connections between people that create space for mentoring or coaching.

As Dacher Keltner wrote in a review of the children’s movie Inside Out, “Emotions guide our perceptions of the world, our memories of the past and even our moral judgments of right and wrong, most typically in ways that enable effective responses to the current situation.” Honoring and harnessing emotions is a critical step in guiding people to learn.

How do you engage emotions in your presentations or speaking?

 

CC Image courtesy of tuckett on Flickr

Adult learning, Emotion, Nonprofits

3 Ways to Break the Nonprofit Scarcity Trap (Part 2)

tunnel-2242714_393_300
It is not hard to slip into a scarcity mindset this time of year. The world can seem flat when we get tired. (Luckily Memorial Day Weekend is right around the corner!)

Which brings us to Part 2 of our conversation about the scarcity trap. I wrote last week about the research on how poor people make decisions. I imagined how this research could inform how we work with small, underfunded nonprofits. Specifically, what if we could take what we know about tunneling, slack, and bandwidth in poor people and use it to set small nonprofits up for success.

  1. AUTOMATE GOOD DECISIONS

People who exist “within the tunnel” have a hard time making good choices. They don’t have the luxury to stand on that proverbial balcony and look over all of their options. They see what is right in front of their face.

Given that:
How do we put something in front of their face when they are ready to see it?
How do we help them to “opt in” to what we want them to do, to their benefit?

For example:

Forms: The IRS revised the Form 990 in 2013. In doing so, they took steps towards automating good decision-making by including a list of board best practices on page 6. I train people on nonprofit finances. Folks generally want to answer “yes” to questions on official documents. Simply including that list improves nonprofit behavior.

Fees: Every nonprofit in Washington pays a fee with their annual corporation registration. A portion of this fee is returned to the sector through basic training. While an individual nonprofit may not choose to invest in learning, that investment is made for them. They can access free, low cost, and on demand learning only possible because of pooled funds.

Some new ideas:

Nonprofit Kit: “I’ve been running this nonprofit for five years. I wish I knew that there were resources to help me!” (said at least 50 people when they discover that there is a state nonprofit association.) Once an organization is founded, it is up to the founders to scramble and find everything they need to know. Many of them have no idea that there is an array of organizations that exist to support them. The Nonprofit Kit (or “Nonprofit in a Box”) idea resembles the correspondence kits of the past, or the kits that a school classroom receives when kids are studying one aspect of science. Why not deliver (via email or hard copy) the basic lessons and tools of nonprofit governance to every new nonprofit in the state?

Nonprofit App: Want to add meditation to your day? There is an app for that. Need a book from the library? There is an app for that. Want to modify a photo to add a mustache to your cat? There is an app for that. Need to add reflection, tools, and a modified agenda to your nonprofit life? Not an app for that. But there could be.

Video games: 65% of households in the US have at least one person playing video games 3 hours or more a week. 31% of gamers are female, and they are on average 37 years old. 1 in 3 Americans over 50 play video games. Social interaction is a primary reason people play. (Research here.) Imagine 1 in 3 Americans playing “Call of Duty: Animal Rescue” or “Grand Community Impact.” These people are potential board members. There is no better way to put something in front of their face and have them “opt in” to learning than to show up where they are.

  1. SAVE TIME

Having time begets more time. By reflecting, being careful, and doing something right the first time, we save time. Not having time means no deep thinking and long term planning, which shortchanges us later on.

So:
How can we help nonprofits save time and build slack into their schedule?

Document vaults: Don’t make nonprofit people ever have to look for stuff. I know that there are a million ways to write a job description or a conflict of interest policy. But when you need to get started crafting something, you really only need 2 options to look at. There is a lot of research around narrowing choice to get better decisions. Putting what they need right where they will find it saves time.

Online learning: People are busy. They want to learn when they want to learn, not when we are offering a workshop. Much of what they want to learn can be considered “on demand” knowledge, meaning that they need to know how to fix their bylaws when they are ready to fix their bylaws. They want to know how to raise money because they need money (now). We can save time by creating tools for them to learn online—with ways to bring these tools into their meetings for deliberation.

Micro-learning: Time often shows up like pocket change, not enough to buy a sandwich but valuable nonetheless. Micro-learning takes many forms, but the main purpose is to deliver important, needed content in small form. One idea that I am playing with involves cards with discussion/idea prompts inspired by these Behavior Change Strategy Cards by Artefact Group. We know that boards and staff could probably squeeze 10 or maybe 15 minutes into their meeting? How do we help them to use that time for learning?

Go local: Every time we save them travel, we save them time. Rather than having big statewide events, go as local as possible without sacrificing quality.

  1. REDUCE BANDWIDTH

There is only so much information your brain can process. We spend just as much effort managing bandwidth as we do time. Having a lot of information to process can have the effect of making us dumber.

So:
How do we narrow the amount of information people need to know?
How can we simplify to environment in which they are working?

Networks/communities: Nonprofits working alone need to know everything. Nonprofits working together need to know whom to call when they need help. The more we invest in networks or communities of nonprofits and in the leadership programs that shape cohorts of leaders, the more we can manage the limited bandwidth issue.

Nonprofit “on call”: You don’t need to know right now how to dissolve a nonprofit. You need to know that when your nonprofit about to dissolve. Why take up brainpower with information that is rarely relevant to the average organization? Having a quick response “doctor on call” system allows leaders to focus on the most important issue in front of them now.

Capacity building collaboration: Let’s face it. A lot of confusion is created by all of us trying to help. The more the individuals and organizations trying to help nonprofits collaborate and communicate a clear message of who does what, the more we save bandwidth for nonprofit people who have a lot more important things to do.

 

Good communication starts with consideration of the receiver. Powerful education is anchored in the learner. Effective programs are designed around the end user. With the vast majority of nonprofits being small and undercapitalized, it seems like small innovations on our part could go a long way in helping them thrive.

Action, Emotion

Press 1 for Action

Press 1 to pledge calling your congressperson next week.
Press 2 to invite a friend to attend a local meeting with you.

imagesThose are your choices. Twenty minutes of stories from the field have primed you to care and want to act. Something has to change. You press one of these numbers to commit to doing something within the next week.

Since the inauguration, I have attended a few MoveOn meetings and nationwide action calls. Wearing my nonprofit hat, I have found it interesting how MoveOn (an established voter engagement organization) and Indivisible (a new movement that arose out of the publication of the Indivisible Guide) have jostled and found their unique brand and purpose within the social change marketplace. Wearing my educator hat, I have to say “Hat’s Off!” to both for showing us how to move people to action.

Some lessons from the Resistance:

Emotions drive people to act. Each call starts with stories from people doing some pretty heavy lifting in communities across the country. We have heard from Latino community organizers, women’s movement marchers, and first time leaders from both red and blue states. I carry with me the story of one woman—seemingly older from her voice, seemingly working class from her language, calling from West Virginia where she finds herself the only progressive among a sea of Trump supporters. She asked for any help that MoveOn could provide to sustain and connect her. Immediately following, we were asked to press 1 to pledge to call our congressperson, or 2 to invite a friend into the movement.

Information allows people to act. Within five minutes, a MoveOn representative answered her plea. There were several activist chapters in the area, and she gave a website on how to find them. When people get stuck, it is often because they don’t have information. They know they need to connect, but in this sea of data and desert of trust, how would this woman find the right people? The organization asking her to take action took action and gave her what she needed.

A simply-written manual guides people to act. The Indivisible Guide has become the go-to manual for the progressive movement. Its crisp directives make it easy for any new activist to step in and do something for the first time. Its availability in multiple formats and in Spanish make it accessible to people who don’t live and breathe activism. It gives us easy to follow steps that the target audience –everyday citizens— can follow.

A simple choice moves people to act. We were given 2 choices. Bam. None of this 33 ways to engage, 27 opportunities to learn, 10 things you should know. Two. We know from research that the human brain can only handle up to 4 things at a time. Folks who study choice and decision-making tell us that someone is more likely to choose if the number of choices before them doesn’t lead them to paralysis. Parents know that our kids will get dinner faster if we offer pasta or tacos, not instruct them to open the refrigerator and stare into the abyss.

We spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to move people to do things differently. The resistance is succeeding to moving a whole lot of people to do things that they weren’t doing in October.

Press 1 to commit to finding one story that would move a key person in your work to action.
Press 2 to create information that help that person take one action.

 

 

 

 

Emotion

How Are You Feeling?

mood-meterWe have a thing in the U.S. about talking about emotions. We are taught that we aren’t supposed to think a lot about how we our feeling because our emotions might cloud our objectivity. We may get distracted from the business at hand. So we don’t talk about how we are feeling in the hopes that we can move on.

Ignoring all of that completely, I start our board trainings by asking what is holding people back from having a great board. I ask how they are feeling right now as it relates to their board service. “Overwhelmed, frustrated, scared,” they answer. Often someone tosses in “hopeful,” which is wonderful, but usually no more than one person in a crowd of 80.

Curiously, the characteristics that we most read about related to boards and how their members should feel are quite different. “Resilient, agile, curious, confident.” These are descriptions of strength that lead us to think about the kind of leadership able to take an organization to the next level.

The gap between how people are feeling and how we want them to feel matters because research tells us that emotions drive how we make decisions and take action. (Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide gives lots of interesting examples on how.) Emotions are not something to be tucked away but rather something to unpack, understand, and address. By cluing into emotions, we can design learning experiences that are more likely to take root.

For example, what emotion do most people feel about the law? Anything legal seems to provoke a sense of powerlessness because it is complicated, risky if done wrong, and expensive if that error leads you to hire a lawyer. The opposite of powerlessness is power, which means that you have a full toolkit of knowledge, skills, tools, and even legal counsel accompanying you as you take action around following the law. Power over one’s law-related activities became our goal in developing “Let’s Go Legal,” a new tool for nonprofits in Washington to be legally compliant and protected. A set of short videos and kit materials deliver information, sample documents to help people take immediate action, and access to pro-bono legal help for more complicated cases.

Just as I start each training getting a sense of how people feel about the topic at hand, I end the same way: how are you feeling as we finish our time together. As much as I care that they have learned something, I really care that they are feeling hopeful, encouraged, connected, or inspired as they leave. Happy people solve hard problems and come back for more learning another day.

Adult learning, Emotion, Friend learning

3 Thoughts on Human-Centered Design

Human-centered design has taken center stage. It is the theme for this year’s Washington State Nonprofit Conference. It comes up regularly now in conversation about human service program design and how to engage previously not reached populations in our programs. It has jumped from designing products to delivering programs. A movement is underfoot, and I am just catching up.

What is human-centered design? What have I been missing?

“Human-centered design … starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor made to suit their needs. Human-centered design is all about building a deep empathy with the people you’re designing for; generating tons of ideas; building a bunch of prototypes; sharing what you’ve made with the people you’re designing for; and eventually putting your innovative new solution out in the world.”
– http://www.designkit.org/human-centered-design

It sounds like good teaching.

Human-centered design sounds like what teachers have known for a long time—that educating students is most effective when the content is delivered in a shape and form that most resonates with the learner. Kids who feel ownership of the process are more likely to invest in their own success. People working in international development have experienced that the only way to solve hard social problems is for the people living within the problem to be a fundamental driver in moving forward a solution. We can take lessons from education and global poverty alleviation to better understand human-centered design.

Teams help us to get there.

A human-centered design expert explained that the secret sauce is the team of people at the table. That team blends a mix of talent that cuts across all of the elements of the work: content experts, social workers, data managers, educators, etc. We experienced the power of such a team in creating two tools for nonprofit board learning (Finance Unlocked and Boards in Gear). In both, a content expert, communication expert, and adult educator developed resources that reflect must-know content paired equally with effective language and delivery. Our understanding of local culture, social realities, predominant emotions and other “human-centered” topics provided the foundation to our solution.

Empathy makes human-centered design inevitable.

Lastly, I am struck by the reference to “deep empathy.” “Deep empathy” lies at the heart of why we press for global education in which our children build a deep and personal connection to communities living lives very different from ours. It is what challenges us in building authentic relationships with neighbors down the street. “Deep empathy” has the potential to drive powerful change as we shape solutions that place at the center the people we have accompanied, admired, become challenged by, and otherwise created a personal connection with. If we can invest in ways to drill down into the kind of empathy that stewards compassionate, respectful, and inclusive action, society will be better for it.