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Julie Cooper

Spring Development

Programme Director

Read more from Julie Cooper

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Knowledge is Power – really?


Knowledge is PowerKnowledge is incredibly easy to access these days; but of course the skill lies in deducing what it is we need to know, and in what depth.

As trainers, we have the added responsibility of working out what our delegates need to know to achieve their goals.

This month I’m going to compare two very different training sessions where results were very diverse, and knowledge played a very different part in each.

The Case of the Unassertive Women

A while back, the local Chamber of Commerce asked me to run a course on assertiveness. The day arrived, and only three of the expected six delegates showed up. All three seemed to be the quiet, shy type that can easily hide in a large group, so a small group was probably a blessing in this situation.

I started the day as I often do, by weaving introductions and ice breaking to find out about expectations and existing knowledge. It helps me know how to pitch the training, and deal with any misconceptions.

The  opening questions that I asked the participants to discuss were:

  • What do I want assertiveness to be?
  • What concerns do I have about assertiveness training?
  • When is it difficult to be assertive in the workplace?

Two things became apparent during this exercise. Firstly, on the surface at least, they had little or no desire to change. All of them had attended to please their employer – and they liked to please! Yes, they could perhaps see benefits of being more assertive, but overall, they preferred to let other people do they assertive stuff while they remained (as they saw it) pleasant, biddable and helpful. Hmmm. Well, that’s what they told me.

The other thing that transpired – and a real ‘spark’ emerged here, as it was safe ground they were more than happy to talk about – was that two of them were pretty much experts on assertiveness theory. They had read all the books, many more than me. They knew the authors, the techniques, the strategies. It was as if they were discussing films or TV – they had soaked it in on a knowledge level, but it hadn’t affected any aspect of their behaviour.

There were small concessions during the day, but progress in terms of being willing to try new behaviours was underwhelming. You can’t win them all.

  The Case of the Workshy Man

On an employability course for people with health problems, there was a 30 year old man who had never worked. His health problems weren’t obvious, but his aversion to earning a living was. He had never had a job and had been raised in the benefits culture. He busied himself doing practical bits and bobs for friends and neighbours, which he enjoyed.  He liked to be outdoors

As the group discussed  their current situation, he heard tales of people actually enjoying past jobs. They talked about missing the status, self esteem and camaraderie as well as the pay packet. It had never, ever occurred to him that work could actually be a good thing.

A huge light bulb switched on. He realised he was scared of working, because it was the unknown – but his fellow group members taught him to think differently.  He thought about his situation overnight, came in the next day, and at morning tea break he made a phone call to an employed friend who worked as a gardener. The gardening team desperately needed an extra pair of hands, his friend knew he had the necessary skills. After more than 12 years unemployment, he started work the following day.

 The Moral of the Stories

I’m sure most of us are familiar with the ‘Knowledge Skills Attitude’ triangle – the three Knowledge is powerdomains where learning and change occurs.  In the case of the unassertive women, little other than the ‘knowledge’ side of their triangle had been built.

  I was aware that although they said assertiveness ‘wasn’t for them’, and were here to keep the boss happy, there was a mixed message. The boss hadn’t forced them to read all those books; that was their personal choice.  It shows there was an interest in the subject – but not sufficient to overcome their attitude that learning to be assertive was not for them.

You see, without a compelling reason to adopt a new skill or attitude, few of us will bother. At the time, even though the delegates could see that assertive behaviour has its merits, they weren’t fully convinced. They had a well embedded set of values telling them otherwise.  In their minds, the pain wasn’t worth the gain.

It’s often said that the ‘attitude’ part is the hardest to change. In the case above, that may well be true! I don’t believe that it is always so. Yes of course there are entrenched attitudes that are never going to budge – but sometimes they do, in a flash. I’ve come many across examples of delegates having a ‘Eureka!’ moment instigated by acquiring knowledge that that led to pretty much instant change in attitude.

So, the assertiveness ladies – lots of knowledge, little change.

Employability  guy – a little knowledge, massive change.

 What would you attribute the difference to?  

Of course a number of factors are in play, some of which we can control or influence, and some we can’t. For example, a key one in the tales above seems to be the influence of peers.  Another would be the pertinence of the knowledge to other circumstances in the individual’s life, which is outside our control.

What interests me though, is how we choose what knowledge to share, and how to do it to have the optimum impact on delegates. I see it as one of the key challenges trainers face.

I’d love to hear some examples of times when you’ve seen a piece of knowledge have a major impact on an individual, and your  thoughts on why it was so effective.

This is a from my guest blog at Unimenta, as their expert in workplace training.

Julie Cooper of Spring Development is an author trainer and coach, specialising in one to one skills. You can find out more at

Her new book, Face to Face in the Workplace, has been described as  “A must have for every manager”   Special offer: Unimenta members can buy Face to Face in the Workplace at 20% discount by using the code ‘Unimenta’ at the checkout here:

 She has also co-authored books for advisers, coaches and mentors, including The One to One Toolkit and  The Groupwork Toolkit . You can find out about them here:

Author Profile Picture
Julie Cooper

Programme Director

Read more from Julie Cooper

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