Final Program Reflection: Master of Education in Adult Learning

What a moment!  After years of reading, writing, classes, tests, projects, presentations, racing from work down to VCU, and late nights of homework… I am finally sitting down to compose my final reflective essay. In some ways, it has flown by, but in other ways it seems to be a long journey, for I feel I have grown and learned so much in the past few years. It has been a wonderful learning experience.  I have learned so much about adult learning theory, instructional methods for adult learners, and HRD practices.  However, even more significant is what I have learned about myself, my abilities, my likes and dislikes, my educational philosophy, working with others, helping others learn, and learning from others.  Finally, it has helped to define my identity as an educator.  In this essay, I will take a look back at my journey through the adult learning program and reflect on what I have learned.  I have posted pages of reflections for all of my courses, so although I can’t attempt to comment on all of the significant moments from all of my courses, I will take this opportunity to look back on the entire learning journey through this program.

It only seems appropriate to start at the beginning.  I remember the first time I found a description of this program online.  After years of contemplating a return to graduate school, I finally felt that I had found a program that would be well-suited to my interests, skills, and career path.  I remember going to VCU to meet with the program director and later attending an open house meeting.  With excitement and nervousness, I felt that it was the right time to return to the academic environment.  Although I was excited about the new experience, I was also nervous because the graduate experience would be far different from undergraduate.  During my undergraduate years, I was living on a campus as a full-time student, with virtually no “adult” or “real-world” responsibilities yet.  As a graduate student, I would be balancing an academic load while also maintaining a full-time job, owning a house, and juggling personal and financial responsibilities.  I had no doubt it would be difficult, but I also felt that life would always be busy, and there would always be a million reasons not to do this.  I was excited and motivated, so the timing seemed right.  And thus, with a completed application packet, a tuition payment, and registration for a class, my journey began.

I vividly remember the afternoon I walked into the building to attend the first day of my first course in the program.  It felt strange to be back in a classroom after so many years since my undergraduate program.  Yet, at the same time, it felt oddly familiar.  After being a student from pre-school through college, it didn’t take long to recapture the feeling of being a student.  I sat there, wondering if I would be able to manage everything.  Was I up to the challenge?  How difficult would it be?  I remember looking around the room at a sea of unfamiliar faces.  Little did I know that many of these faces would be with me throughout most of my courses in the program, some of them sitting beside me in Capstone, and some sitting beside me on graduation day. 

That thought brings me to one of the most memorable aspects of the program… the people.  I love the fact that, in this program, we are all adult educators, but we all work in different roles in different industries.  From healthcare to dentistry to pharmaceuticals, we are a diverse group.  Yet, our common ground is our interest and role in educating adults.  The fact that we all have such different backgrounds enriches the program experience so much.  Had my classrooms been filled with a group of people who all had a similar position in a similar company to mine, I think the learning experience would have been very limited.  I have loved listening to everyone’s stories, experiences, perspectives, and ideas over the years.  I can honestly say I have learned something from everyone in the program, and I do wish to thank them all for their contribution to my learning experience. 

Both professors and students have made this a very memorable learning experience.  Although I am excited to graduate and am relieved that the long nights of homework are coming to a close, the end of the program is also bittersweet because I will truly miss the people.  We have all spoken about staying in touch in the upcoming years, and I hope that we do.  Since this is such a small program, we do get to know our classmates very well over the years, and have established relationships with one another.  I still keep in touch with some of the past graduates and I hope to stay in touch with my fellow graduates and faculty in the upcoming years.  I have been totally impressed with them both as teachers and a students.  But, even more, I have been impressed with them as people.  It takes great commitment to complete this program while managing work, family, finances, and other personal responsibilities.  At times, when I felt my own friends and family didn’t understand what I was going through, I only had to look at the faces in the classroom next to me to regain my momentum.  I have watched all of us walk into the classroom after a long day of work, only to invest hours into our studies…and then drive home to do more work, take care of friends and family, and try to get some sleep before waking up to do it all over again.  I have watched classmates go through changes in their workplace, lost jobs, new jobs, family challenges, health challenges, and financial challenges.  They have each inspired me to keep going, because I see the strength and determination to finish reflected in each of their faces.  There are always a million reasons not to do something, and some people do make the choice to stop, but I have felt us all pushing each other to keep going, so we can enjoy the walk across the stage together.

I remember driving home after completing the last class session of my first course, and thinking, “1 down, 12 to go!”  At the time, it seemed there was still so much in front of me.  It was overwhelming to think about how many courses and how much work was still in between me and a Masters degree.  Yet, somehow, here I am.  Only two weeks to go.  It was easy to get overwhelmed at times, but I tried to take it one day at a time, one assignment at a time, one chapter at a time, one class at a time.  Each day, doing what needed to get done, and little by little the days went by, then weeks went by, then months, courses, semesters, and years.  This program teaches you not only about adult learning, but also reminds you about the value of hard work.  I have been very blessed to have a great support network of family, friends, and coworkers cheering me on.  They all seem to be just as excited about my graduation as I am.  I think it shows that your support network has been with you throughout the journey, so the end is an important milestone for them as well, because they have watched us work so hard to arrive at this point.  I wish to thank everyone who has supported me, helped me, encouraged me, gave me a pat on the back, got excited about important milestones, and listened to me during this journey. Just as I appreciate my classmates and professors in the program, I appreciate those cheering from the sidelines. 

Every course in this program has taught me many valuable things, and it is difficult to capture everything in this essay.  Looking back, I can honestly say I remember a lot of important concepts from each course, and they are now all combining to form a comprehensive understanding of adult learning and education theories in general.  I have kept all of my notes, projects, and papers from every course because I really believe that I will refer back to the information during the upcoming years.  My first course was Adults with Learning Disabilities, and it opened my eyes up to the vast array of learning disabilities that some adults face.  I feel I have a much better understanding of learning disabilities and am able to be sensitive to adults who work beside each of us in the workplace while struggling with a certain disability.  I recently learned that a very talented coworker of mine has a learning disability, but you would never know it if you met her or saw the quality of her work.  This course helped me to understand the different types of disabilities and the various ways we can attempt to help or accommodate those with disabilities. 

I then moved on to the Adult Learner and Program Planning.  This was an important semester for laying the foundation for the entire Adult Learning program.  The Adult Learner introduced us to many important learning theories that we would refer back to during the rest of the program.  Although a theory overview course is challenging, it is important to have this groundwork laid early in the program, so we are able to build on it during our remaining courses.  The Program Planning course was very important because I do plan educational programs at my workplace, so it was a very rewarding experience to learn how to properly and thoroughly plan a program.  I have used many of these guidelines over the years as I have planned programs.  Though I may not be planning a large multi-day conference, even smaller programs require organizational, budgeting, instructional planning, evaluation, etc. in order to be implemented successfully.  I am now able to see myself as a program planner, in addition to being an educator.

The next semester brought Instructional Strategies and Groups and Teams.  I thoroughly enjoyed this semester because all of the information was so applicable to the work I do in my workplace.  I learned about various ways to present information to my adult learners.  Prior to this class, even though I tried to keep my programs entertaining, I think I still relied heavily on Powerpoint and lecturing.  Since that course, I have made a concerted effort to vary the ways in which I present information to my learners.  My coworkers have noticed this and several have told me that they appreciate the way I attempt to keep things interesting by addressing the information with different methods.  The Groups and Teams course was immensely interesting because anyone who works in any type of workplace sees the dynamics of people working together in groups.  This course made me realize that, although we all work in groups all of the time, most of us don’t think about how challenging it is to have a group work together and be effective, efficient, productive, and successful.  Many groups are rather dysfunctional, yet acknowledging the challenges and dealing with them effectively is difficult and often avoided.  I have gained great insight into the groups I work with and observe in my workplace.

Over the summer, I tackled research methods.  While I understand the importance of this course for understanding the various components of educational research, I also know that research is not my passion.  This course helped to remind me that my passion is working with adult learners directly.  I greatly appreciate the people who invest time and effort in furthering our knowledge in the field of education, but I firmly know that my place is with the learners.

Entering the next semester, I experienced Adult Development and Consulting Skills.  Adult Development was interesting and a welcome departure from the other adult learning courses.  I think this course helped me to understand my learners better as people.  I have a better understanding of the stages of development people experience throughout the lifespan.  I work with a very diverse group of learners in my workplace, so this course helped me to better understand the differences between people of different ages, educational backgrounds, career backgrounds, and ethnicities.  The Consulting Skills course was an interesting experience because it allowed me to experience what it would be like working as an external consultant with another corporation.  I really enjoyed the consulting experience, although I’m not sure I ever see myself “hanging the sign” to become self-employed as a consultant.  After this course, I am now able to view my role in my organization as not only an educator and a program planner, but also as an internal consultant.  I have learned to market myself as a resource to different department managers.  I also remember a very key concept from this course, which is that everything you do is an intervention.  Sometimes, simply by asking the right questions, you change the way people view an issue, and can influence their future actions and decisions.  I use that principle in my work today, by trying to ask questions that will help people gain a better understanding of the issue facing them, so they can make informed and thoughtful decisions.

The next spring, I tackled Change Strategies and the Capstone Seminar in Action Learning.  Change strategies was very eye-opening for me because I have witnessed change efforts in different organizations I have worked with, some of which have been more successful than others.  This course helped me to see the complexity of organizational change efforts and learn new strategies for implementing change in the workplace.  The Capstone Seminar was definitely the most challenging course of the program.  It required a coordinated effort between team members, demanded a lot of time spent at the client location, and involved a very time-consuming final report and presentation.  Due to the challenging nature of that course, it was also tremendously rewarding.  I felt that my team was able to give worthwhile, thoughtful recommendations to our client.  It was very meaningful to work on a real problem for a real client, as opposed to a hypothetical situation.

The next summer I completed the HRD Overview course, which was very helpful for me because it allowed me to identify my position as a HR Development position.  When people ask me to explain what I do, I always explain it by saying something about education and training.  Prior to this course, I don’t think I ever would have thought to explain it as an HRD position, though it truly is.  Finally, this last semester, I am completing Educational Evaluation and Organizational Learning.  Educational Evaluation, like Research Methods, has confirmed that I do not want to pursue a career in this field, yet I have a new appreciation for the evaluation field.  I think we all take for granted that educational programs have been evaluated and determined to be successful, but not all programs are evaluated, or at least not evaluated formally.  This course has shown me the value of making an effort to evaluate my own programs to determine what can be improved, or if the program should even continue.  Finally, Organizational Learning has given me great insight into the organization I work for, as I learn to examine the learning processes of the organization as well as the cultural evolution. 

When I think about the times when I have been most or least engaged in the program, I think the answer is simply that I am most engaged when I am learning about something that I can apply immediately in the workplace.  There are some topics that I understand are valuable, but may not be very applicable to my current position.  Others motivate me to return to work the next day and try something new, reevaluate something.  Prime examples are instructional strategies or program planning tips that I can use in my educational programs.  Other examples are concepts such as change strategies or organizational culture that allow me to understand my workplace at a deeper level.

As this reflective essay comes to an end, I wonder how best to summarize how this program has changed me.  I feel that it has helped me to understand myself better as a person and as an educator.  When I say it has helped me understand myself better as a person, I am referring to the fact that it has been a powerful learning experience outside of the classroom, as well as within.  I have had to sacrifice a lot to complete this program.  I am one of the few people in this program paying completely out of pocket, without financial assistance. I also have had very little free time outside of full-time work and the graduate program.  I am not complaining about these factors, but financial and personal sacrifice were a reality in making this happen.  I have also endured great personal challenges during this program.  I am very proud of myself for continuing with the program in spite of all of these challenges and difficulties.  I have told many people that this degree almost means more than my Bachelors degree because I will look at this degree on my wall every day and remember how hard I had to work and how much I sacrificed to complete it.  It was an important personal and professional goal, and I am immensely proud that I have achieved it with no outside help, other than moral support.  

Finally, this program has truly help to strengthen my view of myself as an educator.  I didn’t leave undergraduate education intending to go into Adult Learning.  My first few jobs steered me into the Human Resources field, and then into staff training and education.  Once in that type of position, I really felt that I had found a position that fit with my education, skills, knowledge, and interests.  Finding this graduate program was perfect for me, because it offered me a way to gain the knowledge that I needed to develop my skills in this area.  Most of what I knew prior to this program was learned on the job, and most of the time I had no one showing me how to do things.  I just taught myself as I went, often through trial and error.  This program finally taught me about the theories behind what I do, and taught me about the adult learners facing me in my training sessions.  It taught me about new strategies I could use in presenting the information to my learners.  I learned to better understand the dynamics of my workplace by understanding group dynamics, change strategies, and organizational culture. 

Finally, it has helped me to view myself as an educator.  I remember, as a little girl, thinking about becoming a teacher when I grew up.  Yet, in college, the K-12 educational programs just didn’t fit with my interest.  I pursued education and a career in the healthcare field, and I think it is interesting to see that it has brought me back to education, just from a different angle.  In a way, the career I envisioned as a young girl has come true, just with a different set of faces in the classroom.  After this program, I am finally able to see myself as an educator of adults, and refer to myself as a teacher in the workplace.  I think education has always been a passion of mine, so I feel I am in the right place professionally and academically.  I am so grateful to have found this program, and grateful for all of the people who contributed to making this a memorable learning experience.  I look forward to many years of helping others learn, and learning from others.  One of my favorite sayings is that you learn something new every day.  I strongly believe in this, and continue to learn every day from all of life’s experiences.  I am leaving this program understanding myself better as both an educator and a learner.

Reflections for My Mirror #5: Describing Culture

I was struck by a quote from Chapter 11 in our Schein text that said, “Even if we begin to have an intuitive understanding of an organization’s culture, we  may find it extraordinarily difficult to write down that understanding in such a way that the essence of the culture can be communicated to someone else.”  I think that sentence captures my thoughts perfectly.  One of the reasons it is so difficult to explore or even  change an organization’s culture is that it is so difficult to describe in words.  When we begin participating in a new organization, we are acutely aware that we do not yet understand the culture or know how to interact with the various people in that organization.  Over time, we learn, but those lessons are difficult to verbalize or to pass along to someone else.  Some people may wish to pass along some of this cultural understanding to newer members of the organization.  Some things can be explained, but some aspects of culture are difficult to describe and ultimately, people need to learn the culture on their own. 

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that the director of my current organization told me during my first few days to focus on “absorbing the culture.”  What seemed like a creative way to tell me they weren’t sure what they wanted me to do was actually a very wise piece of advice.  Culture can’t be learned in a few days.  Years later, I am still absorbing the culture.  I have also seen the emergence of different subcultures in the organization, mainly through the different departments and job positions.  Every group of employees has its own subculture, and all of those subcultures collide and combine to form the larger culture, which is therefore very complex.  As our readings show us, culture goes much deeper than the visible artifacts or spoken espoused values. 

Going back to the quote at the beginning of this post, describing culture is almost like describing a relationship.  A person can try to describe their relationship with a family member, friend, or significant other, but it is very difficult to put all of the components of a relationship into words.  Ultimately, the only two people who truly understand a relationship are the two people in that relationship.  What the rest of us observe, listen to, and analyze is only a superficial view of that relationship.  There are many, many layers below the surface that would take a very long time to fully describe, if the proper words could even be found.  If a picture says a thousand words, think of how many words it would take to properly describe an entire relationship, or even further, an entire organizational culture! 

I will be exploring the culture of my current organization for my cultural analysis paper, but all of our readings and discussions about culture have me thinking a lot about the culture of an organization I worked for earlier in my career.  I know from experience how difficult it is to describe a culture because I often tried to explain the environment of this workplace to friends and family, but never felt that I accurately described or fully captured it.  The only people who would truly understand are other people that worked there.  A few of us are still in contact with one another and we still enjoy trading stories of our time there because so few people understand what it was like to work in that environment.  I am going to try my best to describe a small part of that culture, mainly in terms of the leader of that organization. 

We learned in class that leaders/founders have a tremendous impact on the culture of the organization.  I think this former employer  is an outstanding example of a culture that was very negatively influenced by its leader.  Sadly, I don’t think that leader ever saw, or will ever see, himself as a source of many of the organizations problems.  This was a small company with several small offices in different cities.  The owner of the company also actively managed all of the offices.  While I’m sure the owner meant well in many ways, there were a lot of serious problems with his leadership style.  I hate to say this, but he was truly toxic to his own organization.  The company has always endured a great amount of employee turnover, but the owner has never seen himself as part of the problem.  Though he made efforts to motivate employees, he ultimately produced a very negative environment that was a barrier to the company’s overall success. 

This was a for-profit corporation, so it is understandable that financial success was a goal.  However, after working in this company for an extended amount of time, it becomes clear how much the owner is focused on making money.  I actually had coworkers tell me that they didn’t believe he cared about them as people because they were only tools for the purpose of making money.  The staff of the company  actually bonded with each other very well, but it was mainly because we all understood the pressure and criticism we endured from the owner.  Thus, as described in the text, there was a clear division between the owner and everyone else in the company.  There was definitely an “us vs. him” feeling.  Thus, I remember my relationships with my coworkers very fondly, but no one was able to have a healthy relationship with the boss.  Though he tried to be helpful, his approach was to criticize everyone and everything.  In his mind, he was providing constructive criticism for improvement, but it was extremely tiring and discouraging to be criticized so frequently.  People began to realize that they would be criticized no matter what, so they braced themselves for it.  Thus, his efforts at constructive criticism were not very effective because they were so frequent that people became desensitized to them.  His efforts at positive reinforcement also weren’t very effective because people were so accustomed to the negativity.  It is amazing to look back and see how detrimental he was to his own organization.

A unique factor of this situation was that he actually owned the company, so there was no one else the employee could turn to.  We couldn’t bring our concerns to another level because there was no other level.  Unless he did something illegal, the staff was basically trapped to accept and live with the company as it was, or give up and move on.  Some people took the first route, and are still there, having resigned themselves to dealing with the culture because they don’t believe they can find anything else, or aren’t motivated to make that change.  Others took the second route and moved on to other opportunities. 

I actually spoke to a former coworker from that company today, and she left the company earlier this year.  This was my first time speaking with her since she left and when I asked her why, she said, “I literally could not take it any more.  I can’t believe how much happier I am now that I am with a company who appreciates me.  I would never go back there.  It really was a form of mental abuse.”  This may sound dramatic, but I do understand what she means.  Another one of our colleages had left but recently returned to the company and is once again miserable, so we are concerned for her.  The culture of that organization really takes a psychological toll on you because you start to feel as though nothing you do is going to be good enough, so you lose the excitement and motivation to try, and you just learn to expect the negativity.  Some days are certainly better than others, but tears were a common occurrence in that office.  I know all of this sounds horribly negative, so obviously this company had some good points, otherwise all of the talented people I worked with would not have spent part of their career with this company. I just could see that the company was actually being held back by the person most invested in its success.

After reading our text, I can see how desperately this company needs a cultural analysis.  Realistically, I don’t see the owner actually allowing this to happen, because he has always identified problems as everyone besides himself.  Staff have tried to be honest with him over the years, but he just doesn’t see it.  So, an internal analysis has not been effective, and I don’t know if he would ever see that he needs to bring in an outside perspective.  Maybe, deep down, he would know that an outside perspective would trace back a lot of the problems to the owner himself.  I honestly think the best thing he could do for his own company would be to hire someone to manage it and take himself out of the day-to-day operations.  He could oversee the big picture, but his presence in the office is actually damaging to the culture.  I think the right leader could have made tremendous improvements.   I sometimes wonder who he would really listen to about this subject.  A leader/founder has such a profound influence on the culture, so it is an interesting question to ponder… how do they experience and view the culture they have created? 

At the moment, I am even more firmly convinced of how difficult it is to describe a culture.  I know that the little description I have offered here is only a snapshot of the entire organizational culture.  One would have to go work there for an extended period of time to understand it.   We also learned in class that, if the leader doesn’t manage the culture, the culture begins to manage the leader.  In this case, I think the leader was strangely unaffected by the culture he had created.  I think he had the firm mindset that he knew was was best for the company and felt it was his duty to constantly question and criticize the employees.  After so many years, I think he still thinks he is helping and doesn’t see the negative influence he has on his own organization.  Maybe one day the right person will be able to open his eyes to the culture his staff experience every day.  It will take someone he really respects and whose opinion he values, but maybe he will be able to take some positive steps in creating a more positive culture.  Though I know we can never categorize a company as a “positive” or “negative” culture, this particular company really needs a positive influence on the culture.  A positive impact on the overally culture could dramatically lead the company to new success.  I think culture has a huge impact on the productivity of an organization.  If this were recognized by more leaders, maybe cultural analysis and change efforts would be more common in the corporate world.

Reflections for My Mirror #4: Levels of Culture

I was intrigued by the introductory chapters on organizational culture that explored the various levels of culture.  I naturally began thinking of my own organization as I read about artifacts, espoused beliefs and values, and underlying assumptions.  I will start by saying that my organization is wonderful in many ways, and many people comment on how impressive it is when they first visit the facility.  People are commonly very impressed with the staff, residents, physical facility, and the atmosphere in general.  However, the organization is going through a serious of significant changes, so there is a lot of turmoil, tension, and anxiety among the staff members.  I began to think about the way the organization and staff present themselves on the surface (artifacts), speak about values and beliefs (espoused), and what the real underlying assumptions are beneath the surface.  I also began to ponder whether or not I would consider my organization to be a learning organization. 

I could probably write a chapter on each of the levels of culture, but I think on the surface, the organization presents itself as comfortable, casual, friendly, and resident-focused.  This is actually a phrase used by our marketing department.  I remember visiting the facility for my first interview years ago and was very impressed by the beauty of the facility, as well as how friendly and approachable the staff and residents appeared to be.  When I joined the team, I was again continually impressed by the people.  In a sense, it really seemed to be a dream job at a perfect facility.  However, I certainly stumbled as I attempted to become acquainted with my new coworkers.  I had to learn not only formal titles and responsibilities, but also the unwritten rules for dealing with each manager and department.  It takes a long time to discover the best time and method to approach people, how to present questions and concerns, the efficiency and timeliness of each person, and in general, the “do’s and don’ts” of communication at the facility.  Some is learned by trial and error, some by direction from the person, and some by explanation from other coworkers.  Learning how to communicate with people is an extraordinary science and skill.

To summarize an observation about the artifacts and espoused beliefs, I will agree that the staff members are genuinely friendly and resident focused.  Employees are very focused on pleasing the residents and are extremely friendly to visitors.  However, there seems to be some tension contained within certain departments and between certain departments.  The friendliness and customer-service attitude seems to fade when it comes to communication between members of a few specific departments.  This extends into the communication between the departments in question and other departments in the facility.  I try to trace some of these issues back to underlying assumptions and values. 

Without going into specifics, the organization often seems resistant to change.  I think there is an underlying assumption that certain practices that were successful for many years should continue to be successful, and it is unwise to challenge those traditions and implement changes.  Change tends to cause a lot of discomfort in the facility as people attempt to “get on board” with the new changes.  Sometimes, management is fully in favor of the change, so it is the floor staff that struggles to accept new practices.  Other times, the staff seems eager to try something new and management is reluctant to support the new approach.  There are also many changes being imposed by a management company hired by the corporate office, so those changes encounter a lot of skepticism from both staff and management.  Another underlying assumption I have noticed is that the opinion of long-term employees holds more weight than those of newcomers.  While I definitely respect experience and long-term employees certainly know the facility well, I also respect a fresh perspective, innovation, and creativity, which is often stifled in the face of tradition. 

As I thought about all of these factors, I began to ponder whether or not I would consider my organization a true learning organization.  On the surface, a visitor would see a full-time staff development coordinator focused on education and training, numerous training records for all departments, a full calendar of training and enrichment activities, and bulletin boards full of flyers promoting various events.  On the surface, it certainly appears to be a learning organization. If one spoke with staff members, they would hear them praise the education and training programs and talk about how much is offered to the staff. 

 However, what people would not see is the difficulty I have getting departments to send people to required inservices.  They wouldn’t see the nearly empty rooms when guest speakers arrive.  They wouldn’t see the stress and effort involved with getting a group of employees to attend a certain event.  They wouldn’t see all of the ideas that were presented to staff and received no response.  They wouldn’t see all of the cancelled activities due to lack of interest.  Looking at underlying assumptions, people may like the idea of education and training, but in practice most do not seem interested in participating.  The focus is on completing their job and assigned tasks for the day, and participating in any “extra’s” is not a priority.  The underlying assumption seems to be that people are not going to participate in an educational activity unless they are specifically told to participate by a direct supervisor.  As with anything else, assumptions and beliefs trickle from the top down.  The managers are wonderful people, but they rarely participate in optional sessions themselves, so I think the practice of education as a low priority trickles down to the rest of the staff.

I would love to see learning become viewed more as a priority, a privilege, and an opportunity.  Learning can be enjoyable and fulfilling, and there are certainly some people who see this.  However, most people seem unwilling to detour from routine responsibilities for anything that is not specifically required.  I hope to find ways in the future to help people see the value of education and training.  One of my mirrors in this class referred to herself as some form of “training class junkie” because she tries to sign up for every learning opportunity she can.  It seems she works in an organization where people are eager to participate and it is seen as a great opportunity, so I hope to promote that type of atmosphere in my organization.  I would love to see people lining up to go to participate in various functions.  However, the underlying assumptions of the organization are going to have to change, and I think the critical area for change is in management.  If the upper levels begin to put more value in education, I think this will spread to the rest of the staff.  Maybe one day, instead of empty seats in the room, I will be pulling in extra chairs and scheduling extra sessions.

Reflections for My Mirror #3: Culture

As I was reading this week’s article on Culture and Organizational Learning, I was reminded of my first few days working for my current company.  They had hired me for a newly created position, so the job description and assigned duties were a still a little undefined.  They had a “big vision” of what they wanted me to do, but the day-to-day activities had not been crystalized yet.  Plus, since I was not taking over for a specific person, there was no specific person designated to train me.  I would actually be taking over duties that were currently handled by several different people.  So, everyone was incredibly nice and welcoming, and seemed very happy to have me there.  However, I felt a bit lost because I wasn’t sure what to begin working on, and no one else seemed to be sure either.  At one point, I actually remember asking the Executive Director what he would like me to begin working on, and he actually told me to take a few days to meet people and “absorb the culture” of the company.   At first, I thought he made this statement merely because they didn’t know what to do with me yet.  However, after learning more about the concept of Organizational Culture, I can see some true insight and wisdom in that comment. 

Later on, that comment led me to think more specifically about a company’s culture.  What makes “my company” what it is?  Is it the employees?  The residents?  The history?  The processes?  The answer seems to be that the culture is a combination of all of those components interacting over time.  Traditions are formed, norms appear, tacit understanding exists, communication patterns emerge, and both formal and informal roles are created.  Since I was new to the organization and was filling a brand new role, it now seems logical that I would need some time to meet people and gain an understanding of their roles, so that I could better understand how I would fit into the organization and serve the various departments. 

Can one absorb the culture of an organization in a few days?  Of course not.  I began meeting people and developing an understanding of how things were done and who handled certain responsibilities.  However, culture extends far beyond the organizational chart and distribution of responsibilities.  Over time, I began to understand different personality types, different management styles, strengths and weaknesses of various people, and how various tasks were accomplished.  More importantly, I began to understand how to best communicate with people.  I know who responds better via phone vs. e-mail vs. in-person conversations.  I learned who is prompt and organized as opposed to those who often need numerous reminders. 

Ultimately, I found myself being absorbed into the culture of the organization.  I absorbed roles from various people and, over time, my role became more defined and people had a better understanding of my role, my responsibilities, and how I could be of service to the various departments in the organization.  People also got to know me as a person, so my personality and working style were incorporated into the “family” of my company. 

I have learned to understand many of the traditions, norms, and history of the company.  Although I often feel as though I am “fighting” tradition in order to try a new (and hopefully improved) approach to certain things, I have also learned to respect the traditions and choose my battles wisely.  The history of the company is part of its identity, so I have to understand that for some employees (especially those who have worked there for many years), change can be difficult.  It is only natural that they will be partial to a system that appears to have worked for many years.  Sometimes people say they are open to change, yet their nonverbal communication says otherwise.  Too much change at once can be overwhelming, so I have learned to choose my battles wisely and try to change things in small, incremental steps.  In attempting change, sometimes new processes are received well, and people acknowledge that it was a positive change and are happy to keep the new approach.  Other times, a new method is not received well and it is determined that the old method was more appropriate, so we go back to the old method.  Sometimes change is a carefully planned event, but other times it is simply trial and error.

Linking all of this to our reading this week, I loved the image of a small workshop of expert workers passing on their knowledge to younger apprentices.  It is easy to see how, over time, the culture of this company was passed on to younger generations.   In my current position, I was not taking over for a specific person, so I did not have the chance to be an “apprentice.”  However, I became the apprentice of many people who showed me “their way” of doing things.  Some methods I kept, others I modified to suit my styles of work and organization, and other I improved because it was clear the old system wasn’t working.  It is important for me to point out that hardly anything I learned was written down in a policy and procedure handbook.  Nearly all of my responsibilities were passed down to me through a verbal explanation from the person previously responsible for it.  Recently, a classmate mentioned to me that, when a long-term employee retires, so much of their information is tacit that it is a challenge to teach a new employee to do that person’s job.  In leaving previous jobs, I have been asked to write instructions for everything I do, which is a great challenge.  It is difficult to explain to a new person how I know how to do something, how I know when to do it, how I trouble-shoot when something is out of the ordinary, how I respond to unusual occurrences, etc.  The explanations help, but ultimately that new person will have to “absorb the culture” of the company, just as I did.  As our reading indicates, culture is a dynamic, ongoing preservation of organizational identity.  It is fascinating, whether you are brand new, comfortably incorporated, or a long-term employee.  I think we would all be challenge to explain what makes our company what it is.  Someone would have to experience it to understand.

Reflections for My Mirror #2: Hallways of Learning

Over the past week, I have have thought a lot about the concept of “hallways of learning” in organizations, especially as it applies to my current organization.  I found myself thinking about some of the most productive conversations I have had recently with various members of my organization and I realize that some of the most productive conversations were not planned meetings or events.  Valuable conversations can occur when two people pass in the hallway, walk into the copy room at the same time, see each other at the drink machine, walk by someone’s office, or wave hello and then stop to talk.  These conversations often grow out of convenience, because that person is standing right in front of you and you have their attention, at least for that moment.  Several workplace conversations recently began with a phrase such as, “While you’re here…,” “Seeing you reminds me of…,” “I’ve been meaning to ask you….”  etc.  As simple as it may sound, the sight of someone often reminds us of questions, concerns, reminders, or other issues involving that person.  The workplace is a very busy environment and everyone is juggling multiple responsibilities, so it is easy for “urgent” issues to distract us from following up on other important matters.  Taking advantage of seeing someone and getting a question answered may save valuable time in the future, keep everyone on the same page, and bring to light any unanswered questions, problems, miscommunications, etc.

I also think about the impact technology has on our learning environments in the workplace.  E-mail and voicemail are wonderful conveniences that allow us to communicate even when we are not able to talk to someone directly about an issue.  These forms of technology are very useful in some respects, but at times I think they can also make communication more complicated.  As an example, recently a small group of coworkers asked me to join a meeting and were trying to determine the best day/time for everyone.  I cannot tell you how many e-mails went back and forth between everyone about what days/times did and did not work for certain people.  I finally had one coworker tell me, “when they finally make up their mind, just let me know where I need to be and when.”  I also had some coworkers get into a tense situation because the “tone” of some e-mails had been misinterpreted by others, so certain people became offended/upset, so an emotional issue grew out of the interpretation of a written message.  In some cases, catching someone on the phone or in the hallway can serve to avoid a lot of messages back and forth as well as misinterpretation of someone’s tone or intentions.   Our director often tells people that they rely too much on e-mail and advises telephone or in-person meetings to clarify issues.

I have also thought a lot about the physical space we utilize at my workplace.  While everyone who sees it would agree that it is beautiful, it is also large and various offices are spread out all across the campus, so the “decision makers” for various departments are not all in the same area.  For instance, I am part of HR and we are at the complete opposite end of the complex from the people running our healthcare center, so we rarely see them and are often “out of the loop” on issues going on at the other end of the facility.  Sometimes we are waiting for a call back or returned e-mail from someone, only to find out later in the day, or the next day, that that person was not even in the office that day.  Though we love our facility, many people have remarked that we encounter great communication challenges because people are not running into each other and having “hallway conversations” the way they used to.  The other day, I walked to the far end of the building to deliver a document  to a key person in the healthcare department.  The simple act of me standing in her doorway handing her a piece of paper led to a very long, productive conversation about training that was long overdue.  It wasn’t a planned conversation and had no agenda, but it occurred because we saw each other and each had time to discuss some important issues.  I often wish that I worked closer to many of the department heads because I think seeing them more frequently would greatly increase the frequency and clarity of our communication, rather than relying on e-mail and phone messages.

Another change that occurred early last year involved our employee dining room.  When I first started working here, they were offering lunch for free to staff due to high gas prices.  The lunch was very simple, but many people took advantage of it and you always ran into a lot of people in the lunch area.  We then began some renovations to the kitchen/dining area, so the break room was closed for a time.  During this time, people had to bring lunches and eat in their offices.  After renovations finished, they reopened a new break room, but it has never been the same.  People have continued, for the most part, to bring lunches and eat in their offices, so the “community atmosphere” of the old break room seems to have been lost for good.  Most people only go to the new break room to get a drink or heat something up, but few actually sit down to eat in there.  “Cliques” have been created and people tend to eat with the people in their immediate office area.  This is postive for teambuilding within a department, but a negative influence on strengthening relationships between different departments.  I’m not sure what the best solution would be, but I would love to see some physical changes (i.e. to common areas) made to increase the amount of contact people have with one another.

As Dixon tells us in our text, hallway conversations involve multiple perspectives and are often great moments of sharing ideas and creating collective meaning between participants.  Each person’s individual interpretation or meaning on an issue can be shared with others and altered based on new information, ideas, or perspectives shared by other people.  I don’t think that any number of e-mails or voicemails back and forth can equal the shared meaning that can emerge after a face-to-face conversation between people.  Not only are you verbally sharing thoughts, but you are able to pick up on all of their non-verbal communication to better understand their feelings about a certain topic.  Another key strength with hallway conversations is that no one person is “running the meeting” or “presenting the information.”  It is more of a dialogue between equal players than one person presenting information to others.  People are able to talk more openly, and have a balance between talking and listening, as opposed to presentations that are heavily focused on listening.  Hallways are “data rich” as Dixon says, and the public discussions of information help to keep everyone informed on various issues.  As noted in some of my earlier blog posts, I often feel very left out of the communication loop at work, which creates challenges in meeting staff education needs.  Hallway conversations are enormously beneficial for me because I am getting updates from various departments, answering questions, learning what “hot button” issues there are, and finding out how I can best serve the various managers and departments.  I receive valuable information through informal conversations… often far more valuable than something I received in a memo or an e-mail.  My walks through the facility have become an actual technique for touching base with various key players in the organization.  It is certainly worth the walk to find someone in person and have a “hallway conversation.”  They say a picture is worth a 1000 words, so sometimes a few minutes face-to-face with someone can certainly take the place of countless messages.

Reflections for My Mirror #1: The Last Semester

Before I begin posting my thoughts thus far on Organizational Learning, I must take a moment to express my thoughts on beginning my last semester in the program.  Wow!  What a journey it has been thus far.  I think back to the beginning of this journey, when I first discovered the program and went through all the steps of the application process.  I remember walking into my first class, and the day I finished my first course.  I distinctly remember thinking, “One down, 12 to go!”  In a way, those days seem so long ago, yet here I am in my final semester.  I will save most of my overall reflections of the program for the end of the semester, but needless to say, it has been an amazing learning experience.  I have learned so much about adult learning, organizations, working with other people, and most importantly, myself.  I know that this experience has had a great experience on my personal learning as well as my skills as an adult educator.  I am excited to finally have “M.Ed” after my name in a few months, and I will forever be proud of this accomplishment.  Knowing that I completed this program on my own, personally, academically, and financially, means so much to me.  I am immensely proud of my undergraduate degree, but I think my Masters will mean even more to me, because of the obstacles I overcame to complete it.  I have a special place on my wall reserved for my new diploma!

On to Organizational Learning….  Since this is the first post of the semester, my knowledge of organizational learning is somewhat limited.  However, I can already see that I am intrigued by the topic.  I have only worked for a few different organizations in my career, but it is fascinating to observe how they function, develop, grow, handle challenges, and most of all, learn.  Have I ever truly been part of a learning organization?  I’m really not sure.  It seems to me that many organizations are focused on the “here and now” of handling issues, putting out fires, and tackling routine business as opposed to having a true atmosphere of learning.  Simply having sales goals or program goals doesn’t necessarily imply organizational learning.  I am eager to learn more about the topic so that I will have more knowledge to use in analyzing the organizations I have worked with.  The three organizations I have worked with in my adult career, while in the same industry, were very different.  I think it will be interesting to explore the learning that did, or did not, occur in those organizations.  I am especially eager to explore the learning, and potential for learning in my current organization.

To put it quite simply, I think that my current organization tries to be a learning organization, but really struggles.  There is a high degree of longevity in my company, which is really wonderful in some respects.  It speaks well of the company that so many employees are still happy to work there after so many years.  However, this longevity often poses a challenge for the company, especially in the areas of learning and development.  The employees who have worked there for a long period of time (and this includes people on the management level) are often very “stuck” in their ways of doing things.  I have witnessed resistance to change in many ways, and a stubbornness to keep things consistent with the way the company has historically done things.  I frequently feel I am fighting against the idea of “this is the way we have always done it.”  Those of us who are newer to the organization know we have a challenge in convincing people to try things a new way, which of course differs from “the way we do it.”  The smallest things can become a tradition and a norm, so encouraging the organization to learn and move in a new direction is a challenge.  Of course, some things that have worked well for a long time may not need to change, so the challenge is learning to identify the need for change and the best way to accomplish it.

On the bright side, I can see that my organization is really trying to become a learning organization and is attempting to embrace change.  As we learned in Change Strategies, an organization that cannot change to meet the changing needs of the outside environment cannot continue to succeed indefinitely.  My organization has seen the outside world, as well as our specific industry, change in many ways.  So, to remain competitive, we have been forced to embrace change in many ways.  We are in the midst of many changes right now, and have been for a couple of years, and more change is yet to come.  I am excited to see where the organization goes, how it learns, how it grows and develops, and what traditions and history it holds on to.  I hope that my learning in this course will help me to see the organizational learning that occurs from a more educated perspective, and I hope I can be a valuable resource to the company in the upcoming months and years.   Through my posts during the remainder of the semester, I will continue to share my thoughts on the organizational learning I witness in my company.  Already I can see that it is a complex issue, so it will be interesting to apply the theory to my current organization.

HRD Post #6: Identity (Final Thoughts)

As a final thought, I would like to reflect on the way this course has helped me establish an identity as an HRD professional.  Prior to this course, when someone would ask me what I do, my response would have been my title (Staff Development Coordinator) or statement like “training,” “staff education,” “training and education,” etc.  While those are true statements, not once did I ever reply that I was in HR Development.  Furthermore, I think if you took a poll at my company and asked if we have someone who works in HRD, the vast majority would reply “no.”  This course has made me realize that most people don’t really understand what HRD is, let alone have a true appreciation for it.  This course has taught me to view myself as an HRD professional and to appreciate the value HRD can bring to an organization. Though I already felt that I was underutilized in my company, I have learned volumes about the different components of HRD and the many ways it can be utilized within the company.  Without a course like this, I’m not sure I would have been equipped to truly “sell” myself within the organization.  Now, armed with knowledge about the many roles I could play as an HRD professional, I am ready to move forward and develop new goals for the future.

I have already taken action steps toward promoting myself within the organization.  Yes, I am well known there, and my work in training is appreciated, but there are certainly additional ways that I can be of service to the various departments.  I have completed meetings with a few department heads already, which were very productive, so I am armed with ideas and needs for programs in the upcoming months.  I think they appreciate my proactive approach and are reminded that I can be a valuable resource for them and can help them remain in compliance with numerous regulations.  Furthermore, I can serve as a critical communication link between departments by helping to education certaind departments about the needs/regulations/changes going on in other areas of the company, to ensure full cooperation and understanding among the staff.  My meeting with the Executive Director also went well, so there is the possibility of exciting additions or changes to my responsibilities in the future.  Communication is constantly named as a “chronic problem” at my facility, so I am pleased that my direct request for meetings has already resulted in very productive conversations, and I look forward to my remaining meetings with the other departments. 

As the professor mentioned in class, if you ask people what their challenges are, they will tell you!  I have found this to be a valuable approach, and they have all been very willing to describe their challenges and tell me how I can assist them in addressing those challenges.  I am learning a lot in the process about what the department directors deal with on a daily basis.  I am often kept “out of the loop” on various incidents/issues that occur in the facility, but knowledge of these issues will help me to understand and address their challenges.  I have learned a great deal from my meetings over the last week and I plan to continue meeting with the department directors one-on-one on a regular basis.

Finally, this class has helped me to set new goals for myself, personally, professionally, and academically.  Many of our class discussions and activities have very practical applications to multiple areas of my life.  Examples include the personality assessments and the conflict resolution styles.  Learning to understand myself and my tendencies better has helped me to better understand my interactions with coworkers, friends, family, classmates, etc.  It is very true that understanding yourself helps you to understand others, as well as your relationships with others.  This course has been very beneficial to me in many ways, but I think crystallizing my role as an HRD professional is of great value.  I feel I have been given the knowledge and tools to promote myself within my organization.  I am already setting new goals for myself and taking steps toward those goals, so I think that is a testament to the impact this course has had on my professional identity and my career in HRD.  As we discuss the future of HRD in class, I am already thinking about MY future in HRD.

HRD Post #5: Responsibility

At this point, nearing the end of this course, I feel it necessary to reflect on a concept that was brought to light in class discussion and by one of our guest speakers.  That concept is taking responsibility for your own career, goals, position, and ability to initiate change.  I have mentioned in previous posts that I feel I am underutilized in my current position and have a desire to make some changes to enhance my position and serve as a more valuable resource for my organization.  However, I realize that I was placing the responsibility for making changes on my organization, rather than on myself.  This class has taught me that you need to take responsibility for your own career, and if there are changes you desire, you need to take action yourself.  One cannot wait for another person to initiate change, although that may or may not happen.  We cannot be innocent bystanders in our own career, so there are times when we may have to be bold take steps to change our own future.

Though I like to think of myself as a person with strong opinions who is able to express them clearly, I also admit that I don’t always do this in the workplace.  There are certainly times when I can be assertive, but I also find myself acting in ways to please people, keep the peace, go with the flow, etc.  Sometimes it is difficult to know how, when, or to whom one should assert herself.  However, I now see that I cannot wait for my organization to initiate the changes I desire, for this day may never come, or they may initiate other changes that are not so desirable.  There is no time like the present to let them know what I am capable of, what my thoughts and ideas are, my vision for the future, and the ways I can be of service to the organization. 

I am pleased to say that, primarily as a result of recent class discussions, I have taken action steps to initiate change in my current role.  It feels great to be proactive about my roles and responsibilities.  Last week, I took it upon myself to ask the Executive Director for some time with him.  He granted me that time and we had a very insightful discussion on their original view of my role, the progress I have made in the role, challenges I have encountered, possible action steps, and a vision of my role in the future.  Though no firm decisions have been made yet, I feel very confident that he understands my views and abilities and agrees that we can find ways for me to be of greater service to the organization.  He agreed that I am being underutilized, through no fault of my own, but he appreciated my ‘assertiveness’ in opening the discussion about my role in the future.  He shared with me several ideas he has about additional or changed responsibilities.  I am open to changes within my role, especially if they present new challenges and new areas for me to learn about and serve the organization.  I am unsure when, if ever, he would have approached me directly about this, so I am very pleased that I took it upon myself to “go to the top” and start the flow of ideas.

I have also begun contacting all department managers and administrators individually to schedule meetings to discuss training needs in their departments.  Poor communication tends to be a challenge in my company, so I believe that a series of individual meetings will help me to gain insight into the needs of the individual departments.  I have prepared a series of questions to explore their ideas about past training programs, current ones, ideas for the future, suggestions for staff events, and anything pertaining to their department specifically.  My calendar is filling up with these individual meetings, and I have completed one already, from which I emerged with a great training need for the next few months.  Again, I now see the need to be proactive and take responsibility for my role.  If I could see that communication was lacking, rather than wait for others to take the initiative, I am taking the initiative myself and am already seeing the results.  Another example of the power of direct communcication and generating ideas from the departments I am serving.  I think my proactive approach and sensitivity to their needs will help them to furuther see and utilize me as a valuable resource.  Thus, I can say that recent class discussions have directly led me to some very important action steps this week, and for that I am very grateful and excited about the future of my role.

HRD Reflection #4: Utilization

My recent interview with an HRD professional, in addition to our readings for class, has me contemplating my current role in my organization.  Reading about the various HRD theories, HRD roles, and the value of HRD in organizations has made me realize, quite simply, that I am underutilized in my organization.  My interview with the HRD professional further solidified this realization.  I do not necessarily see this as being someone’s fault, but rather a result of the fact that my position was brand new when I was hired and the organization never firmly defined the role or my job responsibilities.  While it has come a long way since I was first hired, I still believe I could be doing more in my HRD role.  While the managers have expressed that they are happy with my performance and contributions to the organization, I don’t think they fully understand the value I could add, since the company has never had a true HRD role.  Healthcare companies, especially long-term care, have historically focused almost all training efforts on clinical/nursing needs. Normally, my postion is held by a nurse.  My company was actually very foward-thinking by hiring a non-nurse for the position, but I don’t believe they are utilizing me to my full potential.

I found it interesting to read the section of our text on why HRD fails, and who is responsible.  While I certainly don’t think my role has been a failure, some of the points made in the text rang true to my position.  While the managers understand my value in terms of compliance, I don’t think they have been encouraged by the director to utilize me for developmental/training activities far beyond compliance.  In addition, when developmental programs are offered, I struggle with attendance.  Ultimately, the staff is very focused on their job tasks and they are not going to take it upon themselves to attend a program unless their supervisor specifically tells them to go.  (Obviously, there are exceptions, but this is a general observation after years in this industry.)  So, ultimately, in order to flourish, I need to get the full support of the various department managers.  In order to do this, I think that I, my supervisor, and my director need to firmly establish the need for my position.

I also think that my role is viewed as a method of keeping us in compliance with state required training topics, as well as addressing specific problems.  While I am pleased when my services are requested, I do realize that most often a complaint/problem surfaced and they need to have some documentation on file that training was conducted to “solve” the problem.  I think the focus on my position is very much compliance-driven as opposed to developmental-driven.  It is a means to an end, and a way to show the state inspectors that we are following the rules and addressing concerns.  However, I would love to see more emphasis on developing individuals as well as the entire organization.  I would like to see HRD as part of the strategic planning process, as opposed to simply a way to document a response to a problem.

I think another key area to address is finding ways to better measure the impact my training has on individuals, departments, and the organization as a whole.  We have done company-wide surveys as well as evaluations of individual training programs, all of which came back with positive remarks on company training.  However, there may be other, more concrete ways of helping the company to determine the return-on-investment of my position.  The impact of training programs should also be communicated more specifcially to the corporate office, the director, my supervisor, and the department managers.  I think their support and utilization of the HRD role would only increase if they could see clear evidence that it is having a positive impact. 

Finally, I want to take it upon myself to be more proactive in promoting myself, my abilities, and the ways I can serve as a resource to the various departments.  “Optional” or enrichment programs may be looked upon as unnecessary, so I need to work even harder to promote their importance to the managers, who are in a key role to get participants to these activities.  Even the best planned programs will not succeed without adequate participation.  HR in general is not viewed as being highly valuable in my organization, so more effort is required on my part to communicate my value to the decision-makers in the organization.   I have already begun to think about conversations I need to have with various decision-makers, as well as begin thinking of other ways to become better informed of the training needs of the organization.  I only know what is brought to me, since my organization does not have me participate in management meetings, so I am not hearing about the “company issues” being discussed.   I would love to get permission to participate in these meetings, so I can better assess the needs of the organization.  If this does not happen, I will at least need to make a point of meeting with the various department managers regularly to discuss the needs of their department in more detail.   Though I realize I face a challenge, I am excited about the idea of promoting my role to the organization, especially in light of the fact that I am nearly the end of my Masters and am even more qualified to make significant contributions to the organization. 

HRD Reflection #3: Communication

Our readings on communication and our recent classroom exercise on active listening, encouragement, mentoring, and confrontation has really stimulated me to think about my own communication styles.  Throughout my life, I have often been told by other people that I am a good communicator. But, what does this really mean?  Does it mean that I am a good listener, or that I have good ideas, or that I am able to put thoughts into words?  I have now been thinking, what does it really mean to be a good communicator?  I realize that it is important for me to understand my own strengths and weaknesses in terms of communication in order to improve my skills and have a positive impact on professional, academic, and personal relationships.

In terms of a strength, I think that I am able to put my thoughts into words relatively well.  This applies both to the spoken and written word.  I have always thought that I was a good listener, and have had people tell me I am, but after our recent exercise, I can see that I do not normally exhibit the characteristics of a good active listener.  I have realized that, even though I am genuinely interested and concerned for the other person, I do tend to jump into the conversation.  I think I am doing this in an effort to relate and empathize and let them know that their feelings are valid, and I have experienced similar feelings.  I also tend to offer a lot of suggestions in an effort to be helpful.  So, I think that people tend to think of me as a good conversationalist, and not necessarily good at simply listening.  However, I am glad that I am seeing this because it has motivated me to focus more on my listening skills. 

I think that a constant effort to improve our communication skills is important because communication impacts all of our relationships.  And, no matter what our skill set, we all have room to improve.  While I may be a “go-to” person if someone needs empathy or suggestions, I may not be their first choice if they just want to talk/vent about an issue.  I can look back on some relationships and realize that I often did more talking than listening, so I have made it a personal goal to listen more, and listen better.  By improving my listening, I will likely understand people better in terms of emotions, worries, ideas, etc.  I have also realized that not everyone is as capable of talking about thoughts, feelings, and emotions as I am.  Some people need time to think and process their thoughts before discussing them, so I need to allow that time and be patient.  I am often so eager to discuss something, on my timeframe, that I may not realize the other person needs time to think first.  I also want to improve my active listening to draw out the thoughts and feelings of friends and family who have difficulty expressing themselves.

Communication is really an art, and a challenge.  I have faced several challenges this year, so I am in the process of setting new goals, and I have realized that I need to focus on communication skills as one of those goals.  Though communication in general has always been a strong point for me, I can identify areas where I can improve.  I think that strengthening my listening skills will help me to improve as a trainer, an internal resource for managers, a support system for my family, and be a better friend. 

I also was very intrigued by the classroom activity focused on encouagement and mentoring before confrontation.  I really love the idea of making it a specific goal to encourage/mentor several times before moving to confrontation.  In the past, I often operated with the mentality that no one can read my mind, so I should just let them know what I am thinking so we have clear communication.  However, when I have a “problem” with something and speak about it, it may come across as more confrontational than encouraging.  I have also made it a personal goal to be more open-minded and try to be positive and encouraging before moving toward a confrontational style of communication.  Even though would say that my “confronting” style is not highly aggressive or emotional, I still see instances where I could have “bitten my tongue” and tried to encourage someone’s creativity, rather than speculating why something might not be a good idea.  I am generally a very positive person, but I am also a worrier, so sometimes the worries may come across as negativity.  Thus, I want to make sure that my positive spirit comes out stronger in all of my communciations.