How to communicate to enhance learning and understanding

We all have different learning styles. This is good to know as a manager especially when you are managing people who are in the process of learning new skills and roles. As a manager you will be forgiven for not having the time or the inclination to learn about your staffs’ preferred learning methods and changing your coaching or training to suit them individually, by luckily, there is a system that works for all people.

It’s called the 4MAT learning model, which was developed by Bernice McCarthy in 1980 and is still highly regarded and widely used in training and coaching, today. She observed that managers, trainers and coaches, simply don’t have the time to get to know the learning preference for each individual person if they are embarking on group training/ coaching. It was further identified that there is a primary question associated with each of the four learning styles that drives the learning process. In a group situation therefore, an effective trainer should be aware of these questions and be prepared to address each of these questions in a sequence. This is useful if you are a manager embarking on training or presenting new information to a team. By understanding this dynamic amongst your staff, by appreciating what drives their learning process, you can adequately prepare your topic so that it thoroughly answers each of the four questions to satisfy everyone’s learning capabilities. Let’s explore the questions and the motivations behind each one;

  1. Why – Why am I learning this? Why is it significant? Why is this something we are investing our time and resources in? The people who have this preferred leaning style are interested in the meaning of the learning and its greater purpose. They enjoy learning about people and ideas and hearing what others must say about a topic. When answering this question, your role is to motivate and provide meaning. 
  2. What – What do the experts must say? What data is available? What information can I get about this? These people like to watch and think and gather information. They like an organised learning environment and enjoy trainers who are knowledgeable about the topic. When answering this question, your role is to provide information, substantiate it and allow time for reflection. 
  3. How – How can I get to it? How can I start? These people like to think and move immediately into doing. They are very practical and take a hands-on approach and appreciate a trainer with real-world credibility. When answering this question, your role is to allow practice and testing and provide feedback without doing it for them. 
  4. If – What if? What about if we do it this way? Where else has this worked/ not worked before? These folks are possibility driven and rely on exploring the possibilities. They like to ‘do’ and then move back into their own space of evaluation. When answering this question, your role is to allow trial and error and ask questions about what they learned while practicing. 

Use this approach in all your communications

So, for learning transfer to happen you must know why you are doing something, what is happening, how you are going to do it and what the possibilities are. This approach can be used not just in training, but in presenting new changes to your organisation or new initiatives. It can be used in your email communication and can actually be used in your management communications in general. In my book Practical Performance Improvement, I give some detailed practical examples of how to apply this model to your communications and also the importance of framing your “why” in a way that really captures attention, gets buy-in and builds engagement so your recipients are ready to accept the “what” the “how” and the “what ifs”.

Touching briefly on it, to use an example I have used in my book, let’s compare two examples of an email communication telling staff of their requirement to attend some performance management training. Both examples are addressing the “why”:

Example 1: “In an ongoing effort to improve the skills of our managers, senior management and HR have developed these programs and you will be required to design a Personal Development plan in conjunction with the course.”

In this example, you would have to address the “What” first (ie the training course), which simply isn’t the right sequence, so will not be quite as engaging. Sadly this method, where the “why” is answered after the “what” is used more often than not.

Example 2: “I was remembering our conversation the other day and I was thinking that you are right. It can be very difficult trying to manage team members sometimes. Trying to manage people who seem to have a different agenda to yours, trying to get things done right first time so you don’t end up having to fix everyone else’s mistakes, and trying to make the most out of being the meat in the sandwich between your team members and senior management is not easy. ‘So, I was thinking that there must be a way of reducing that stress and frustration while increasing the likelihood that team members do things right first time. Also, I was thinking there must be a way to make sure that you are able to state your case in the most persuasive manner possible to senior management, while maintaining job security.”

This example is much better and addresses the “Why” first, hence increasing the likelihood of engagement before the “what” is addressed (i.e. the training course). The second example is much more compelling. It works better at ensuring your recipient is engaged before telling them about the performance management training they are required to do.

In a world where we try to make our communications short and prompt, we sometimes miss the opportunity to create a more compelling message and what we end up chopping out of the communication, is the good stuff, the stuff that gets the buy-in you need.

Next time you need to train your team, make a presentation, or simply communicate something to your team via email, take a moment to consider if you are addressing the “why”, “what”, “how” and “what if” questions, in that sequence and whether you have given enough thought to the “why”. Sure, it may take a bit more time and effort, but the rewards are worth reaping.

Would you from my leadership training and custom workshops? Let’s talk. Get in touch today.

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