What are you learning to unlearn?

Chris van Schaick

Chris van Schaick

I spend a lot of time delivering unlearning.

I help organisations and their people to write more clearly and effectively. In another life, I’ve worked with radio producers and their leaders helping them produce better performance. So my professional life is all about helping people learn new skills.

Or is it?

It’s begun to dawn on me that a lot of what I do is helping people to unlearn. I nudge people to re-start doing what they used to do so well. That’s before they gave themselves unconscious permission to start doing it badly.

I’m not advocating those dreary and heart-sinking lists of things you mustn’t do. No, I’m thinking of that much better and longer list: what you could do if you wanted.

I worked with a singing coach on a radio project once. She was convinced that everybody could sing. Everybody. She said most people thought they couldn’t sing. We’d all been told that once and most of us believed it.

Doesn’t this ring true in leadership? So many people who make big things happen day in day out say: “Oh no. I’m not a leader. I couldn’t be a leader.” Those self-limiting beliefs again.

At the end of a session on writing I was running at a heavyweight organisation the other day, I asked for closing thoughts. I was thrilled when one chap said he felt he’d been given permission to do the right thing.

It’s certainly true in business writing and I’m sure it’s true in leadership that a lot of the wrong stuff comes out of unsuitable baggage that’s been inadvertently picked up along the way. When you challenge people to find the right option, they often already know, deep down, what it is. It’s just that their view got obscured by the clutter.

Anyway, must close now. Just off for a meeting at a major PLC to meet their head of Unlearning and Development!

Leadership nudge: How often do you recognise that people intuitively know the right thing to do? All they need from you is a bit of help to unlearn some limiting ways of thinking and behaving.

Chris van Schaick is a facilitator and trainer who specialises in helping organisations produce clearer, more effective and more enjoyable writing.


One Comment

Michael Brown
14 February, 20119:34 pm

Hi Chris

I so agree. I’m a trainer too, and I think that for many people I work with there is more to unlearn than there is to learn.

I actually think there is another condition we bump into as trainers, which is arguably worse: people have simply fallen asleep at the wheel. It’s not that they have acquired bad habits, it’s simply that they have switched their brains off. Exhausted, disengaged, no longer seeing the point of what they do or where it fits in to anything, and lacking any form of real human connection with others, they slump into passive repetition of same old same old, waiting for it all to end in some way.

Much harder to deal with that in a training room. A gloomy view, I admit, but do you recognise it as a trainer?

Leave a Reply