‘Engagement’ is the current name of the game. In Education, for example, students need to be fully engaged and research staff need to be engaging with the wider community. Excellent. It’s common sense, but useful to highlight such needs and to commit to satisfying them. But . . .
From my observations, engagement is in danger of becoming just the latest in-thing that achieves very little. Why? Largely because it will be treated as the latest flavour of the month, in a short-term programme with a well-meaning intent and appealing words . . . but without really understanding what’s actually required.
Most engagement programmes, like so many customer care, team building, reflective practice and other initiatives before them are doomed to failure.
Why? Because they have no depth. Because they do not really engage.
Yes, I would agree that engagement is the issue. But what, exactly is meant by ‘engagement’?
Does it mean students having a say in planning their education? Of course! Does it mean researchers publishing their findings and speaking about them in public? Yes. But what seems to be happening is that these specific requirements become part of the process, to be checked off for each project, by ticking the appropriate box. Requirements become a question to answer ‘Yes’ to on an annual review form.
Successful engagement becomes a number (of stakeholder meetings held, for example) inserted during an assessment exercise. Whatever the initial intent, it soon succumbs to our objective, evidence-based way of managing and, in so doing loses just the deeper engagement that was sought!
Engagement is about passion.
Engagement requires entering into an activity with heart and soul.
Read those two lines again. Engage with them. Don’t just read the words and understand them rationally, feel what I’m saying. Relate it perhaps to two concerts or other artistic performances that you’ve attended. One was technically perfect but did nothing for you. The other, perhaps not quite 100% there but had you in tears.
In music, in the arts, we know and appreciate the difference between a performance where the artists are going through the motions . . . and one where the performers are at-one with each other and the piece, who pour out their personality in every nuance of the work.
The same degree of engagement is possible, and essential
for meaningful success, in all walks of life.
Not only do such deep engagement move the audience (customers) and send them away happy, but the reputation of these artists ensures they will get continued high sales. The artists themselves, and the staff at the venue, will all have had more meaningful, fulfilling experiences. They will have enjoyed their work.
Engagement is no more, and no less, than doing something with passion, with emotional as well as intellectual commitment.
And yes, these are not words or ideas that sit comfortably in a work environment. And that is the problem. That is why so many attempts to improve business efficiency and effectiveness fail: because of a fear of ‘heart and soul’ factors.
Who works best, someone who ticks the boxes but no more, or the ones who really cares about their job and throw themselves into it?
And how are the latter group encouraged and enabled? By engaging with them! By caring about how they feel, by emphasising with deeper needs, by seeking resonance between personal and business needs. This requires empathy. This requires emotional intelligence on the part of bosses. Engagement means not just allowing heart and soul into your organisation, it means doing so with heart and soul!
Still not convinced? Still uneasy about all of this? Then how would you answer this question:
With robots and AI taking over many roles,
what it is that human employees provide that technology cannot?
The answer is simple: heart and soul. Humans, given the opportunity, care, they empathise. They engage.
Dr Keith Beasley is a life-guide, cultural researcher and consultant . . .
In the context of Continuing Professional Development (CPD), Reflective Practice (RP) is a relatively new idea. But in some sectors, in some parts of the world (e.g. in some facets of Health and Higher Education in the UK) it has become a required aspect of CPD. The essence is clear and not in question: to continually improve our working practice we need, from time to time, to step back from our actual work and ask ourselves how well we’re doing.
Underlying RP is the idea that for new experiences to be assimilated and integrated into our consciousness we need to distance ourselves from them. The implication, unfortunately often not stated explicitly, is that this is not a rational activity: RP is more about acquiring a reflective state of mind, one more akin to mindfulness or meditation than academic study or business analysis.
Maybe because of this and maybe because such a state of mind is, in many respects alien to the objectivity that underlies academic and business thinking, RP has, in some quarters, become another focus for analysis. Rather than encouraging and enabling an open-minded state of mind, RP can be another check-list task to tick-off: “thinking about your last lesson (or patient interaction, for example), consider: in what ways did it go well, in what ways might it have gone better”. By being provided with such prompts, the mind is encouraged to think analytically; by being given specific question to address, the mind can’t help but work in a rational way. This discourages the very open-ended, deep reflection intended by RP.
In such cases, the very reason that RP is encouraged and valuable is being neutralised by the way it is often undertaken! Such is the paradox of personal and professional self-development: we need to undertake certain activities purely because we don’t enter into them with the intent and deeper purpose that they require.
So, how to teach RP?
All of this has implications on how RP is best taught. Experiential learning is essential, with classes enabling participants to feel, for themselves, a deeply reflective state of mind. I have a range of techniques for this including, for example, the use of mandalas: circular drawings, as used by a number of indigenous people and as a meditation aid by Buddhists. Time and again, in a wide range of situations, a group of individuals has come into the class, pre-occupied and stressed. Before long they are deeply engaged with the creative process of mandala drawing. By the end of the session, the reflective state reached brings forth many useful insights or has allowed the emotional release of some stuck thinking.
RP, when practised with depth, has much in common with Healing Art: perhaps a cathartic release, or expression of frustration . . . or a realisation: maybe the answer to a problem . . . or perhaps a feeling of peace.
Either way, reflection, done with the right intent, allows a reconnection with deep feelings and inner knowing: just the things that rational thought often tries to ignore or push away. RP is the ideal way of restoring a balance in how your use you mind, in bringing together the thoughts and feelings that make humans human.
A more detailed description can be found in Beasley, K., 2013, The nature of Reflective Practice as a soft-skill: enabling a conducive T&L environment, Bangor University, PGCertHE Portfolio (download available here)
Dr keith beasley
As an engineer turned life-guide and Quality Assurance expert who did his PhD on 'Transcending Thought', I've seen life from many perspectives. We need them all to even begin to make sense of life . . .
Beyond Definitions 5/11/17
The Wisdom of Mental Health Awareness
Tuning In 26/10/17
Collaboration and Community 19/10/17
From Know-lede to Know-ing (Part 1) 13/8/17
The Wisdom of Multi-tasking 30/6/17
Grasping the nuance of efficiency 08/6/17
KISS in Education
Keep it Simple, Stupid!
Wisdom . . . at Work
Reflection on Reflective Practice 21/4/2017
Engaging with Engagement