"The means is dialogue, the end is learning, the purpose is peace." ~ Founder Dr. Jane Vella

More $#%& in My Face!


I cannot remember her name, but I will always remember our moment.

I had just started a new training job, and was visiting my new colleagues, bringing with me a small collection of resources we had developed in my previous team—two books, a few manuals, a CD with handy templates. I stopped into the office of an overwhelmed manager, gifts in hand, and introduced myself. She took one look at that stack of stuff in my hands and exploded.

“You know what this is? It’s more $#%& in my face!” 

Needless to say, that stack of stuff was still in my hands when I walked out of the office. 

There was a lesson in there: just because I offer it, doesn’t mean you want it. 

The “it" is content, data, know how, expertise. 

We are deluged with ”it" these days. “It” comes into our inboxes (perhaps like this blog did for you). “It” shows up in our meetings, our one-on-one interactions, and every time we look into that screen. “It” comes in such volume that we click delete, we tune out. We say “yes, but…” 

Many of us are in the business of getting “it" in front of people in ways that help them. We work through influence, and to do that, we bring data, content, know-how. So rejection—even when it is more subtle than the "$#%& in my face” kind of rejection—limits our own effectiveness.

So what do we do? There is not a simple solution in this era of information overload. But this simple equation is worth pondering: 

To wit: we tend to accept advice (influence) from people who know what they are talking about (expertise) when we trust them (relationship).

But generosity with our expertise (E) does not necessarily score us points on the relationship (R) side of the equation. In fact, it can cost us points. Think back to my lovely stack of resources, or the last time you sat through 60 slides worth of VERY IMPORTANT data, or the time your boss heard 3 minutes of your concern, and gave you 20 minutes of off-target advice. 

So, what I could have done, that day long ago? What might have built the R side of the equation?

  1. Be curious instead of helpful. Curiosity allows others to tell us who they are, what their situation is, and what help would look like for them. I could have asked about her day, her work, the piles on her desk, what she might want from someone like me.
  2. Check my ego. "It’s more $#%& in my face! is not so subtle, but it came in response to my own not-so-subtle message.  “I am very smart. My team made all this stuff. How lucky for you to have me here.” I am not suggesting that we undersell our own value. That is not helpful to anyone. Rather, be aware of my intention when making an offer of expertise, and how much of my intention is about seeming helpful versus being helpful.
  3. Just enough and no more. Finally, I might have been selective, really selective, about how much to offer. I could have considered her time, not just mine in that exchange. 

Question:   What are your best approaches for building both sides of the influence equation?

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Enriching Online Learning


Seven participants from across the United States AND one from Fiji, one from UK, another from Peru and three from Toronto!!! What a rich, diverse, provocative learning experience we had! Virtual, online classes provide us all with the exceptional opportunity to expand our cultural reach to learn from anyone, anywhere, about any topic. A true gift, indeed. Not surprising that we are experiencing a rapid increase in the demand for online instruction.

As excited as we may be about this potential, often that little voice in the back of our heads niggles us with “Can I learn as much online/virtually as I do face-to-face with my teacher and fellow participants?”

As Dialogue Education practitioners, it is our responsibility—and privilege—to design online and virtual learning events that provide the same engaging, rigorous, accountable learning structures that our DE face-to-face classes do. We can do it!!! We have copious principles, practices, tools and systems to access and support us.

To be true to principles of DE (respect, engagement, relevance, immediacy, inclusion, safety, etc.) it is important to shift the paradigm of online learning from an emphasis only on knowledge/topic input to DE learning-centered structures that  generate “learning at the cellular level” which results in sustainable transfer.  (See Traditional/Learning-Centered comparison here.)   

This includes honoring in our online designs, as we do in our face-to-face classes, how the brain learns as articulated by James E. Zull in The Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching the Practice of Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning.  (See Zull-DE Collaborates here.)

Three mantras that will help you focus on DE engagement as you design Learning Tasks are:

1.Opportunities for participant-to-participant and participant-to-teacher dialogue

As we DE practitioners know, dialogue—with others and with the content—expands learning.  Zull’s brain research shows that learning is the outcome of experience (248). When learners wrestle with the content and “do” what they are learning, they construct their own understanding by building on what they already know.

2.Blend of techniques to maximize learning styles

A plethora of methods, techniques and tools exist on the internet to respect every learning preference--visual, auditory, kinesthetic, dialogue, musical, spatial, verbal, and all the rest of our multiple intelligences. Creativity, variety, resourcefulness abound.

3.Relevant technology that enhances learning

The technology we use must heighten the learning experience without creating a barrier to that learning. We must always ask “How will this tool enhance the learning?” rather than using it just because it’s “cool.”

Taking advantage of technology and DE principles allow students to interact with the material and content of the course in a different way than a traditional face-to-face course. The variety of ways instruction can take advantage of the online environment of today will provide a rich and interactive learning experience.

What enriched learning have you experienced in an online course, either as a teacher or a participant?

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Tips for Honouring and Inviting Diversity in Group Learning


by Jeanette Romkema and Jessica Luh Kim

In Canada we are fortunate to live with diverse cultural groups. However, at times, the way we communicate or approach interpersonal communication in one’s culture, can influence the way we engage and participate in a learning event when diversity is present.

The following are six fundamental patterns of cultural difference as named by DuPraw and ‎Axner in their article Working On Common Cross-Cultural Communication Challenges*:

  • different communications styles
  • different attitudes toward conflict
  • different approaches to completing tasks
  • different decision-making styles
  • different attitudes toward disclosure
  • different approaches to knowing

Here are some tips for honouring and inviting this diversity:

  1. Learn about the people coming in advance. Taking time to discover who is coming to the event will better allow you to design relevant and meaningful learning tasks, use examples that are helpful, and check your assumptions. The more you know about your group/audience (as individuals and as a group) the better you will be able to enliven the event with intentional facilitation that personalizes the learning for each individual.For example, ask learners:  What are you most excited about learning? What concerns or need do you have?
  2. Ensure safety and respect. It is always critical at the beginning of the learning event and even in advance of the event to determine what safety needs should be considered.  People with different cultures have different levels of comfort with disclosure or attitudes about conflict.  Prior to the start of the learning event, take the time to individually meet and greet your learners.  This can be done for online as well as face-to-face events.  Taking time to make that connection, will help put the learner at ease, and feel a sense of safety and respect.  Also, determine and set group guidelines right away.  By doing so, you help set the stage for meaningful engagement and sharing.  Also remember, everyone likes affirmation.  Affirm your learners’ contributions.  It takes courage to share and be a co-creator in the learning event. For example, ask yourself: What do the learners need to feel a sense of safety? 
  3. Offer choice. Adult learners will choose wisely according to their needs and comfort level. For this reason, when you offer choice about how to do an activity (drawing or writing) or receive information (follow along in the brochure or with the drawings), adults will engage in a way that is most helpful for them. Be sure to create safety (“it’s okay to do it different”) and reminder them of the options for a task. For example, ask learners:  On your own or with a partner, write a new definition using that samples given to you.
  4. Be flexible.  As facilitators of learning, it is so important to be able to read your audience and adjust the flow of the learning event based on their needs.  If you sense that your learners need more time to wrestle with the content so that they can understand and engage with it, add a pause or extra time, or ask a colleague to work separately with some of the group.  If needed, switch it up if you know that a large group learning task might not work and change it to a personal reflection.  Going with the flow and adjusting your design is critical when working with a diverse group of learners because at the end of the day, we want all learners to walk away feeling a sense of accomplishment and success. For example, ask yourself:  What needs to change in the learning design (right now) because of what I am seeing/feeling in the room with this group?
  5. Be clear and simple. You may think that this goes without saying, but all too often professionals get caught up in jargon or the complexities of their field. Use plain language when teaching and designing your handouts. Use a combination of words and visuals (pictures, videos, etc.) where possible to share new content. Teach as if you are having a casual conversation – keep it down to earth. This is not about impressing people in the room, this is about learning.    For example, ask yourself:  What jargon do you often use that needs to be avoided with this group? How will you ensure this happens for all?
  6. Personalize. When learners are invited to apply new content they should use their own examples, stories, challenges and situations as much as possible. By personalizing, you are honouring and inviting the diversity in the room and by sharing these applications, you are also celebrating them. This is easy and essential for learners and their learning.For example, ask learners:  On your own, think of your own situation at work. How would it look at the office if you tried this model out with your colleagues? What do you think would be helpful about using it and what would be especially challenging?
  7. Offer accessible materials.  When designing learning tasks or the materials that accompany your learning event, we need to be mindful of the needs of our diverse learners.  As discussed in Tip #5, make sure the content you are sharing is in plain language. Use a variety of ways to connect your learners to the content (i.e. pictures, diagrams, videos, role play, etc.).  If possible, share some of the content before your learning event, so the learners can review the materials in advance and engage with it in a way that helps them understand the content.  Create more opportunities for personal reflection or use paired or small group work, especially when you know disclosure is something that the learners are not comfortable doing in a large group.  Also, plan how you will structure the environment of your learning event.  If the learning event is face-to-face, give some thought about location, time of day, and room set-up (e.g. arranging the chairs in a circle or small groupings of chairs/tables).For example, ask yourself:  How can I use the place, space, time, and timing to enhance learning for these individuals knowing the diversity they bring?
  8. Be transparent. Different cultures may have different expectations about what happens or doesn’t happen in a learning event. To minimize resistance and confusion, be transparent about why you are doing something in a certain way or time. If safety and respect have been present, and learners understand why you are doing something, they will most likely be more able to give something a try even if it is different from what they are used to. For example, ask learners:  What we are going to do next may feel different from what you are used to. In a few minutes I will ask you to… We are doing this so that… This afternoon, we work with the same material in a different way
  9. Reflect back. From time to time it is important to tell a group what you are observing in the room. Highlighting an energy shift after a tough task or a blockage when a question is asked or difference in how individuals are able to engage with a topic, can help a group and learning. It may also be an opportunity to change a task to better suit a group or some learners.For example, ask learners:  I have noticed that when I invite pair work many of you prefer to work on your own. This is good to know. So, for this next task let’s work on our own…”  
  10. Show genuine curiousity.  Having the opportunity to have diverse groups of people at a learning event can invite and cultivate genuine curiousity.  Having diverse perspectives, insights and understandings invites the opportunity to co-create a higher level of learning or shared understanding, as well as, excitement and engagement. It can help open the door from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset – one in which we can see a greater number of possibilities.  More importantly, having diverse groups of people at the learning event especially around a topic area that is deeply meaningful to the learners, can help build not only that genuine sense of curiousity but a genuine sense of human connectedness; connectedness that makes learning more relevant and powerful. For example, ask yourself:  How can I best prepare myself to facilitate this event authentically so I am fully present and authentic with this group?

*DuPraw, M.E. and ‎Axner, M. (1997). Working On Common Cross-Cultural Communication Challenges. NCSALL Study Circle Guide, Topsfield Foundation.


Jeanette Romkema jeanette@globallearningpartners.com is a Senior Consultant and Partner with Global Learning Partners. She has lived and worked cross-culturally for 30 years and deeply values diversity in groups and communities.

Jessica Luh Kim Jessica.LuhKim@schlegelvillages.com is the Director of Education and Program Development at Schlegel Villages. Jessica has a passion for understanding cross-cultural differences in order to better serve and support the communities she works with.  

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Learning-Centered Conferences: All’s Well that Ends Well


After a plenary or panel session at a conference, it is helpful to protect time at the end to engage the audience with the content just presented. One idea for doing this is to pose a question for people to reflect on or discuss with others around them (or at their table): 

  • “What key ideas were offered in this presentation that you feel are worth trying?”
  • “What did you hear from [the speaker] that resonates with your own experience? What was new for you?”
  • “What ideas were offered here today that you find most challenging?”

Another idea to help engagement and personalize the content is to invite personal reflection:

  • “On your own, what one idea do you want to share with your team? Write this in your conference booklet.”
  • “Take a few minutes on your own to write one key learning from this session that you want to take back to your work with you. What is it, who do you want to share this with, and when.”

Although this engagement time is often short, even 5 minutes is time well spent. Whether you frame it as a “take away” or “key for me” or “now what”, facilitating it well is important. Here are a few tips:

  1. Be simple and clear. Since time is limited there is no room for complex instructions. Projecting the task on a screen at the front is helpful and recommended. This way no one is wondering what was just asked.

For example:  “We just heard [the speaker] offer us much food for thought. Now we are going to take some time to consider what was most important for each of us. At your tables, share what was most important for you, your team or your organization to hear today, and why that is so.”

  1. Set the task and get out of the way. There is no need for discussion or explanation. Once the task is set, let the participants start the dialogue. Your voice has to stop, in order for theirs to start.
  2. State the allotted time. People need to know how much time they have. If they hear they only have 5 minutes, they may start their discussion a bit faster than if they think they have an unlimited amount of time.

For example:  “In groups of 2 or 3, take 10 minutes to…”

  1. Encourage digging deep. The audience has just been passively listening to a presentation and may need a bit of encouragement to get started and engage authentically in small groups.

For example:  “… as you discuss this at your table, think of the communities in which you work. What is critical for them in light of what you heard today?”  

  1. Affirm the group. After everyone engages with the task you asked they to do, thank them. They have just shared their thoughts, questions and sometimes tough issues – this should not be taken for granted.

For example:  “Thank you for sharing all you did and for the tough questions and stories you shared. Although we don’t have time to hear the dialogue that happen at your tables, I invite you to continue these conversations over lunch and during the breaks.” 


Jeanette Romkema is a Senior Partner at GLP.  You can join her and GLP Partner Michael Culliton in the January 2016 online course, "Learning-Centered Conferences".  

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Who Gets to Tell What Stories?


"We dream in narrative, day-dream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticize, construct, gossip, learn, hate, and love by narrative."

-Barbara Hardy

If you have ever attended a Glocal Mission Gathering you may have heard this quote: “We are made of stories.”  We are constantly being told stories that shape how we view the world and treat those who are in it. These stories are part of who we are and we grow in our understanding of them in the sharing of them.

As a fiction writer I have found that whenever I go over to the non-fiction side of writing I am unable to tell my own story without including the stories of my friends, loved ones and even strangers I have met. I struggle being as truthful to their experiences as I am with my own. This often involves sharing what I have written with them and asking for permission to use it, before submitting it to publication. When I write fiction the depth of any characters is determined by the depth of my relationships with the people in my life. Stories are never solitary things but live in relationship with all that is around them. We are characters that step in and out of ongoing narratives that started before we arrived and will continue long after we have parted.

As storytellers it is important that we share and listen to each other’s stories with great care and love, especially when there are unequal relationships involved.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you share stories in both your professional and everyday lives.

Storytelling Challenges*

  • In relationships where power is unequal, our understanding of other people’s stories is shaped by those who have access to the tools of the media – including the press, books, computers, and more.
  • It is important to think about how our representations of others’ stories might be shaped by our own cultural preconceptions.
  • Are we representing other people in our stories as they themselves would see their own lives?

Storytelling Questions to Ask

  • Who gets to tell the story?
  • Who has access to the tools and platforms of storytelling?
  • What stories are not told, and who is expected to be silent?
  • Whose stories are valued and important, and whose stories are ignored?

What else have you found to ring true in your experience?

[*Excerpt from: ELCA Global Mission, Accompaniment Document]


Kristina L. Diaz is Resource Coordinator - Mission Formation of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America based in Chicago. 

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