How To Ensure Learning From Your Example

Modeling preferred behavior is a powerful way of influencing the people around you. But your example isn’t enough. People usually don’t know why or how you’re doing what you’re doing unless you tell them. Here’s how to ensure learning from your example. 

Our workshop participants tell us that they learn a lot about interactive training by watching the way we lead our workshops. They see us model brevity of teaching, use many different interactive exercises, and facilitate skill practice during the workshop.

We model it. They see it. But in the end, they can’t replicate our training style. Why?

Most people see what we do, but they don’t understand the principles behind it. That lack of grounding makes it difficult for them to figure out how to do it for themselves. If I explain why and how we organize our training process suddenly makes sense.

Your example alone isn’t good enough. If people don’t understand why you did it, your modeling isn’t influencing. 

Model With Narration

I want my teenagers to grow in character, so I try to model integrity in my interactions with others. However, I noticed they didn’t get the application to themselves. They weren’t catching the why. So, I began to “narrate” why I did what I did.

Earlier this year, we were planning a family vacation. The best week for everyone fell on a week I had already committed to a speaking engagement.

I modeled with narration with my teenagers like this, “I’m going to check with the client to see about changing the date. Now, if it were a month or two away, I wouldn’t even ask. Some people would say, ‘hey, it doesn’t hurt to ask,’ but it does hurt. It puts your client in a awkward position to have to say no to you and makes you look unreliable. But since this speaking engagement is part of a monthly meeting and it’s 6 months away, I think it’s okay to ask.” Sure enough, the client was happy to slide me to the following month.

I needed to model with narration if my kids were to pick up the distinctions of when it’s okay to ask for a change and when it isn’t.

How to Ensure Learning from Your Example

As you model preferred mindsets and behaviors, create a discussion to explore the why and how so that the people around you can learn from your example.

  1. Your example will be misinterpreted. People see your external behaviors and attach their own internal motivations to it. Their interpretations can be quite wrong. A few years ago, I put my face on our training website and rewrote the workshop sales pages in my voice. Some interpreted this as “Keith is trying to make a name for himself.” My motivation followed the principle that people want a relationship with a person, not a company. So, make your website personal (more here). I did that, and it’s worked very well to increase connection with our audience. People won’t fully understand your example unless you reveal your thinking.
  2. Give a short explanation with your example. You don’t have to deliver a 30-minute lecture. Just say a sentence about why you did what you did. It may spark a conversation now, or later. One evening at a conference, someone asked me, “Do you need to check your email?” I replied, “No. I’m okay. I limit my email to work hours to have better work-life balance.” That led to a conversation about not letting email, texts, and social media rules our lives. If I had answered, “No, I’m good,” there would have been no learning.
  3. Use Socratic method with your example. You don’t have to say it, you can ask. Let’s go back to the example with my teenagers and the speaking engagement date change. In my conversation with them I asked, “How do you think a client would feel if I asked to change the date a month before? How about six months before?” Asking helped them to think through implications of timing. It also modeled how to negotiate with a client, that is, put yourself in their shoes, how would you feel?
  4. Use your example as a bridge to their application. As you discuss your internal thoughts for why and how you did something, bridge the principles to their application. Ask, “How do you handle situations like this?” to hear from them. If they express some interest in doing what you modeled, ask them how they would apply it. For people wanting to follow our interactive workshop example, I might ask, “What’s one thing you could do at your next meeting to be more interactive?”
  5. Narrating your example causes you to reflect more deeply. When I explain why I do something, I don’t always like the answers. Sometimes my reflection reveals motivations I’m not thrilled with. Narrating my example causes me to reflect more deeply on my behavior. This gives me a chance to learn from my own example and make changes.

People need to see your example. But they also need to understand your motivations, principles behind what you did, and how you actually did it. To communicate these things we need more than just modeling, we need modeling with narration.

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    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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