Sometimes, it is not a matter of knowledge. It is a matter of what’s blocking action.
Consider this example where a client apparently needs a session on problem-solving and decision-making (PSDM). Gus* is a high-performer, high-potential finance manager in a multinational company. Just recently, his employer offered him an ex-pat position in another country, a sure stepping stone to his dream job of being a CFO.
But there was a hitch. That country is ruled by a military junta and still lacked comprehensive protocols on covid. Not really a hardship post, but not exactly a plum assignment, either.
When Gus approached me for coaching, he said, “I don’t know what to do. If I move there with my family, it will involve considerable risks in health and safety. But if I decline the offer, the company may not think well of me.”
He wrung his hands as he grappled with scenarios. “On the other hand, if I look for work in another company, the compensation may not be as high as what I am enjoying now, and I have a growing family to feed.
“And lastly, the compromise solution seems to be that I go to that country by myself, but that means I will be leaving my family here. My wife just gave birth to a beautiful baby girl and I don’t want to miss out being a dad.”
At this point, you may think I teach him how to weigh pro’s and con’s or fill out a decision matrix. That would be the cognitive way to do it. But instead, I replied, “It seems like you already have given this a great deal of thought. What would tell you if this or that would be the best decision to make?”
Gus sighed, “That’s a good question. For me, my family’s safety comes first.”
“How important is that criteria?” I probed further.
“Oh, it’s non-negotiable for me. I’d do anything for my family, but not to the extent of putting them in danger.”
“So based on that criteria, which option would you take?”
Gus furrowed his brow as he replied, “I guess the best move is to decline the offer. But there is still something inside me that resists that decision.”
Then I asked the crucial question, “You came to me saying you don’t know what to do. But it sounds like deep down you already know what to do. So I am curious, why are you not doing it?”
Gus’s facial expression – eyes wide, mouth agape – indicated he was astonished by that question. He paused and gazed deep inside him. After a deep breath, he said, “I just realize that these kinds of decisions entail sacrifice. But I was not willing to take the sacrifice because I also want that ex-pat job despite the risks. I want to have my cake and eat it, too.”
This burst of clarity led him to embrace sacrifice in his decision-making. At the end, he was solid in responding to this offer with a grateful but polite “no”. He also planned to have an exploratory conversation with his boss on alternative career paths, such as heading finance for another division of the company while remaining in the Philippines.
The moral of this story is that while L&D professionals do a superb job in imparting knowledge and skills, many times there is a non-cognitive barrier to application. Without application, there is no progress, let alone transformation. In Gus’s case, he clearly has an analytical mind that would be at home with a critical thinking, PSDM workshop. But when it comes to pulling the trigger, he gets frozen. The reason is not cerebral, it is emotional.
Therefore, be aware that we can be teaching people what to do, only to discover they are not doing what we taught them to do. In such cases, at the back of our minds should be this curiosity: why are they not doing it? Exploring this, gently and empathically, should uncover the real blockages to learning. After all, learning is doing. To learn and not to do is really not learning.
As be become more aware of this all-too-human reality, we can infuse our L&D with more effectiveness. What’s more, we can ensure our clients of a good return for their training investment.
So now that we know what to do, let’s start doing it.
*Name and circumstances disguised.
About the Writer
Nelson T. Dy
Nelson T. Dy is a trainer, coach, speaker and author. In his day job, he manages two factories for a well-known beverage conglomerate, using both his chemical engineering and MBA degrees. He is also an active Toastmaster, guest preacher, and content creator. He aims to give value to PSTD through thought-leadership articles like the one you’ve just read.
For more of his insights, subscribe to his Youtube Channel @nelsontdy. Also follow him at https://www.linkedin.com/in/nelsontdy/, visit his website nelsontdy.com and contact him via email@example.com.