People, Culture and Inclusion

Learning is Clumsy.


Learning is Clumsy.

I heard this phrase from a speaker at a conference recently and was struck by it. When we envisage learning we perhaps have utopian ideas that we will positively embrace the knowledge or ideas being imparted and then smoothly put them into practice or apply them with gusto, being changed as a person from that moment onwards.

Of course the reality is somewhat different. When we learn we may or may not be terribly engaged, due to all sorts of factors from our motivation to learn through to the quality of the learning experience. Or we might be engaged but then when we try to apply it, we are surrounded by barriers – a different context, no support, misremembered content, anxiety of getting it wrong and so on.

Here, then, is the clumsiness and I love the way that word perfectly describes how it can feel. We learn a new language and, of course the first time we ask for two coffees and a croissant, we end up with a black tea and a glass of tepid water. And the same principle applies in the workplace. When we learn a new process it feels clumsy, when we try out a new management technique it feels clumsy, when we take on a new role it feels clumsy.

When something feels clumsy there is the temptation to say “oh well that didn’t work” and give up. Don’t do that. Have another go, and each time you do, it will get a little easier – the pieces will fit together slightly better, and your anxiety will drop. In our quest for “perfect” we can forget the work needed along the way.

If you are a manager and someone in your team is being clumsy with their learning, think about what you can do to help – are you giving them the support they need to try out their learning safely, are you reducing barriers for them, making sure they reflect on the process and keep trying?

If you or those around you are being clumsy in their learning, my key message today is to be kind – to yourself and to others. Learning something new is not always easy and it may take time. Manage your expectations, and don’t stop learning.

Juliet Flynn, Organisational and People Development

Laurel and Hardy – the masters of clumsy!

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