My grandmother was a Hungarian refugee, coming to Australia in the 1950’s.  She learnt the English language assiduously; it was important for her to not only be understood, but to understand this new culture.  These days she lives in an aged-care home run by the local Hungarian community.  When people there speak to her in Hungarian, she gets upset and tells them to speak English!


I love that commitment, but I also know how hard it was for my grandmother.  Asking people to repeat what they said, wondering if she missed the point, catching the wrong train.  It is a commitment shared by millions of people who have come to live and work in Australia, one of the most multi-cultural places on the planet.


When I was learning to facilitate, an unconscious crutch I used was infusing my narrative with big words.  Words like discombobulate; based on the theory if you can’t convince them with science then dazzle them with magic.  I would read a book, notice the big words, google them and then understand.  Then I would throw them at people in a workshop because I was now so smart.


Unfortunately the problem with that coping mechanism was no-one knew what I was talking about.  Unlike reading a book, there wasn’t time for anyone to google a word to see what it meant, and I wasn’t noticing the perplexed faces in front of me.  Then a colleague sat in a workshop of mine to give facilitation feedback (a professional discipline in my team).  After the session, my colleague gave me the home truths.  “When you are a facilitator, you are a professional communicator.  Nothing means more than allowing people to understand you and allowing yourself to understand them. Why don’t you just use simple words, Paul?” 


Not just a lightbulb moment there, but permission to have it not be all about me.  I realised too I had been carrying around that unnecessary pressure.   It was one of those necessary steps from trainer to facilitator, brought about by honesty from a caring colleague who had been through that already.


Big words were off the menu.  With vigour I started to play with how I said the words; speed it up, slow it down, synching with movement, pausing for effect.  Choosing my words too; trade-talk, vernacular, acronyms or not?  Playing with my voice to top it off; drawl, shout, whisper, sing.  I was so relieved there were things I could still do in and around words, but this time to help the learning and engagement.  I was getting in touch with my inner facilitator nerd.


The last two weeks, I helped run some virtual classroom sessions into Asia.  Like any pilot, there was the odd awkward moment and confused pause; learning the lessons you can only learn by doing.  In amongst it I could appreciate the careful listening occurring and the deliberate choice of words for as precise a response as possible to the question posed.  The respect I felt for the learners was the same as for my grandmother’s journey.

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