The Learning Coach: What is Holding You Back?

by | May 5, 2023 | 0 comments

I recently gave a workshop on decision making and in the pre-course work, I asked two questions:

  • What is helping you in making decisions?
  • What is holding you back in making decisions?

I did this so I can discern the level of my participants, with a greater interest in the second question. The reason was that I may have given a lecture and practicum while having ignored their learning barriers. Learning would not have been optimized, it would have made me doubt that they could have been the best decision makers they could have become.

That is why I put a coaching element in my workshops. I will reserve the positive query (“what is helping you?”) in a future article, but for now I want to be aware of what is undermining the participants’ learning.

Internal Barriers
For example, several participants responded that what is holding them back is overthinking. Some confessed to analysis paralysis because of the following self-talk:

  • I am afraid of the consequences.
  • I may offend someone.
  • I want perfect data.
  • I have too much data!

In my early days when I enrolled in decision-making workshops, the prevailing assumption seemed to be that the participants had no emotional baggage that stood in the way of learning. I noticed that such workshops would tend to confer techniques that are primarily cognitive, such as decision trees or pro’s and con’s lists. But reality shows that a person may know these tools, yet still can’t get to a decision effectively or efficiently. Something other than cognitive is happening.

Seeing the pre-course data, I added new slides to my deck. These slides invited the participants to reflect from where their overthinking is coming. I offered some tips and enjoyed engagement by way of Q&A. One participant asked about making a decision “based on the best available data at the time.” Another wondered when it is good to delay a decision (my go-to response: it depends on the situation).

Such personal sharing enriches what would otherwise be a cookie-cutter workshop that presumes we are Vulcans, those fictional characters in Star Trek who are driven solely by logic.

External Barriers
The barriers can also be external. Remember that a workshop is a controlled environment. Sure, the trainer is nurturing, the material is insightful, and a participant feels empowered. He is all fired up, eager to apply what he has learned in his workplace. Then he goes back to the same boss who refuses to be data-driven, peers who love to shoot down ideas and a culture that is toxic, to say the least.

To be fair, such environmental factors would show up as non-training needs in the Analysis stage of ADDIE. However, the trainer can still wear a coaching hat to help the participants work around such external constraints.

In my Four Mirrors, one useful question is “what small steps can you take to remove such workplace barriers?” What can he still do within his sphere of influence? What measure of courage would he need to buck the tide? What tactful ways can he use to sway his boss and peers to his way of thinking?

One of my favorite adages is “create your own Camelot.” Camelot, of course, is that idyllic realm of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, where nobility and chivalry prevailed. (Yes, I know about Guinevere and Sir Lancelot, but let’s not spoil the good vibes.)

Therefore, if the participant is an individual contributor, he models the very change he wishes to see in his organization. If he heads a team, a department, or a division, he shapes a culture of psychological safety and problem solving. Who knows? Perhaps the rest of the organization will be enamored by what he is doing and follow suit.

In being aware that there are factors – emotional, mental, social – that tend to hold back learning or the application thereof, the trainer’s empathy is heightened, the methodology is holistic, and the results are a lot more satisfying.

After all, if your participant is waiting for the perfect time to apply his learning, that time may never come.

About the Writer



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 here.

For more of his insights, subscribe to his Youtube Channel @nelsontdy. Also, follow him at, visit his website and contact him via


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