Reverse Engagement

The first time I came across the term “re-learning” was back in 2005. One of my course participants tole me that he had learned a certain leadership technique from his boss when he moved into a new role with people responsibility.

Not an unusual thing: we constantly learn from others, especially leaders in our immediate business environment – and we learn both the thing we’d like to replicate, and those things we wish we’ll never replicate ourselves. So, this individual, let’s call him Adrian, had learned to always start meetings with a personal chit-chat, then move into the business agenda. This is a typical technique to build onto personal relationships and demonstrate an interest in them.

However, as it happened, during the training, we have analysed other peoples’ styles and learned that it is more effective to start a meeting in a way that is appealing to the other person, regardless of what a common approach should be.

So Adrian said it he cannot imagine break his habit of meeting openers and start doing it in a different way. Adrian is a classic victim of “re-learning”, meaning that in his case, it wasn’t about learning something new, but about un-learning a habit that’s not working anymore.

In order to better understand this, let’s dive deep into our brains for a moment. Behaviour that we adopt and demonstrate and that prompts a certain level of success or positive outcome for us, becomes a habit., a comfort zone that is tested and that encourages us not to change. If we are to replace this behavior with something new or different, we need to take a two-step approach:

  • Un-learn the previous behavior and tell our brain that instead of being successful which we believed for so many years to be true, it has now become less successful and should not be used anymore. That alone can take a lot of effort.
  • Learn something new instead, practice it and test it to prove long-term success, then make it a habit

Most adults focus on the second part more than on the first. As adults, when we remember “learning”, we automatically think back to our school time. There was no re-learning, because everything we learned was new – so we automatically focused on part 2, learning something new. This is still engraved in our minds to an extent that our brain goes back into auto-mode.

If we want to overcome this challenge, we need to consciously focus on “in-learning” something old, before we can learn something new.

Imagine you’ve always been summarising project meetings in a certain way, with a certain structure for years. Now, a new initiative requires and teaches you to do it differently. However, that seems more complicated, less logic and even takes longer at first. That’s called “re-learning”. Omitting an old way of doing something and using a new way instead, without falling back into old habits. Re-learning is one of the hardest forms of learning and only happens to adults. With our concept, we don’t only help them to re-learn, but we also help uncover barriers to performance and potential. We are able to achieve this by tapping into both the emotional and the rational side of learning.

Instead of approaching a learning topic through content, our first question is “How can we keep a group of learners engaged for 2 days in a row?” – after we have the answer, we start weaving in the content using a performance-based approach.

Now, think about the last time you have learned something new – what was it that you had to un-learn and how hard was it at that time. Today, in retrospect, how impactful was the re-learning?

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