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In my training events I usually start the day by asking some version of the question “What will make today good value for you”. Obviously this is intended to focus the minds of participants on the day ahead… but it also gives me info about what I have to deliver in the session.

I have found that, even when people know what they want from a workshop on a given topic (and they often haven’t thought it through), they have difficulty formulating a succinct description. In my workshops it is always a useful exercise, up to a point, because it allows us to discuss hopes and aspirations in order to make better use of the day. I’m not alone in this of course; it is standard procedure for many trainers and facilitators.

“Up to a point” because the responses I get are usually abstract generalsations, and so they are too vague to give clear direction. The most frequently requested outcome, for example, is “To feel more confident…” about this or that (depending on the session topic). Other needs that go onto the flip-chart are “To be more effective/persuasive/assertive etc”; “Tools and strategies”; To handle other people/myself better”; “To get better outcomes/more done/etc”.

These well-intentioned  responses represent something to the speaker, but don’t convey much by way of instruction for the trainer. What does “feel more confident” mean? It’s easy to grasp as a concept, but too vague to be of value as a response to the question about what is needed.

It’s like going to the supermarket with a shopping list that simply says ‘Food’. It may be OK if you know what you mean by ‘Food’, but useless if you require somebody to supply particular items. To take it a step further, what if your list includes more detail like ‘Cereal’, ‘Fruit’ and ‘Vegetables’? If you are the one doing the shopping and you can add the detail and make decisions about what to buy as you go, these catch-all terms are sufficient, but in other circumstances they won’t be.

We think in abstract terms and most of the time it’s adequate. But if you need something to happen sooner rather than later it it can be useful to spot the habit and add more detail when it would help. If you want to be more confident/happy/successful or whatever, a few questions can add detail to the landscape. For example so that you know what the terms you are using mean to you:

  • What will feeling more confident/happy/successful mean to you?
  • What will being more confident/happy/successful enable you to do?l?
  • As you move towards being more confident/happy/successful, what will tell you you are moving towards you goal (what will be the first, small signs)?
  • What will others notice in you when you start to become more confident/happy/successful?
  • How will being more confident/happy/successful affect your day-to-day activities?
  • Could there be any unintended consequences of you becoming more confident/happy/successful?
  • And so on…

On the other hand, abstract language is OK if you prefer to be more adventurous. It might open new horizons in your eating habits!


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