Management Articles


How to Increase the Probability They'll Learn It

By: Susan Dunn

Susan Dunn, The EQ Coach, coaches individuals and executives in emotional intelligence, and offers workshops, presentations, trainings, Internet courses and ebooks.  She is a regular presenter for the Royal Caribbean and Costa cruiselines.  Visit her on the web at and for FREE ezine.

Whether you’re a manager training a new employee, a coach mentoring a client, or a teacher of adult learning, there’s one key to getting their attention, keeping it, and insuring they absorb the material in a way in which they’ll remember it and use it: Do it in relationship.

We know that positive emotion aids learning. It’s an obvious point, but often overlooked, that when we’re engaged, we pay attention. If you’re not paying attention, you’re not going to learn anything.

At the next level, as human beings, we’re always curious about the person we’re with. We’re with another person, not a computer, not a book.

The way we “know” another person is through their feelings, and our feelings in response to them. When we’re learning from someone we don’t know – and can’t know – one of two things will happen. Either we’ll be locked into the factual level, using willpower to memorize a list of items, motivated by obligation or fear.

Or, conscious of it or not, we’ll expend energy trying to guess what’s going on with our instructor, and make up our own version to fill in the blanks. This can include negative emotions which preclude learning.

The computer trainer frowns and we think, “Uh oh, he thinks I’m stupid. I don’t think I can get this.” When actually it may only have been indigestion, or a fight with his own boss, or boredom with the subject matter. When the trainer isn’t engaged, other thoughts enter her mind as well!

A relationship – individual attention, eye contact, and engaging the learner, and staying engaged oneself. How do we “engage”? Through emotion. Through avoiding sterile language, vapid jargon, a “one speech fits all” approach, and a sterile treatment of the subject matter, i.e., stuffing information down someone’s throat like their daily dose of cod liver oil – for their own good, of course. Instead we could prepare a fragrant pudding, arrange it beautifully on a plate, and present it to someone with enticing descriptions of the sweet taste they’re about to experience. The person then will be eager to for it, all senses having been engaged – sight, sound, taste, touch, smell. The pump will have been primed, to jump metaphor here.

Communication with emotion, and a varied style that can be shaped for the individual you’re training makes it relating.  A skilled teacher teaches through conversation. It contains the same material, but oh, the difference. The learner senses the difference – there’s that word again – “senses” – and feels valued as an individual. He or she responds.

“Emotionally bankrupt communication devalues all of us,” says Robert Cooper, chairman of the board of Q-Metrics.

Higher education, including organizational learning has its challenges today. I hear from college professors who say the students treat them like a television set, eating and talking in front of them, in their presence but ignoring them.

Can you force them to learn? No. You can teach, but they don’t have to learn. Failing the use of force, we can only influence someone else. How do we do this? By engaging them. By refusing ourselves to act like a television show or computer program. “It is about perceiving, learning, relating, creating, prioritizing, and acting in ways that take into account emotional influence,” says Cooper, “rather than relying solely on command and control, logic and intellect, or technical analysis.”

Sharpen your Emotional Intelligence competencies. Emotions move us – that’s the root of the word – and when you move someone, they will learn. They won’t be able to help themselves!

© copyright, Susan Dunn, 2004

Other Articles by Susan Dunn

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