I’m a firm believer in the power of experience, of doing, in learning. Nothing new there – it’s pretty standard practice nowadays and variations of experiential learning cycles abound.
For me it’s about emotional engagement. I can learn without doing. I can learn from books, videos, presentations and all that jazz. But it’s sometimes hard to know what I feel about something until I grasp the nettle and try it out.
Viv McWaters and Johnnie Moore have written about what they’re calling “action storming” or “problem theatre” – just one method they use to shift people from thinking about to doing, from head to heart. It’s a method they’ve used to get people exploring working with ‘difficult people’, something that comes up for every group of would-be, or existing, facilitators and trainers. Action storming draws on a number of strands of dramatic technique.
“This involves trying different approaches in quick succession, and as soon as someone in the group makes a suggestions along the lines of, “Why don’t you try…?” we invite them to tags the protagonist out and do what they have suggested – try something. We’ve found it creates a completely different way of tackling those difficult moments. Instead of theorising about what might work, analysing different responses and becoming increasingly abstract, Action Storming is far more concrete. You can see a physical shift in people when they get it – when something they try just works. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it’s a surprise” Viv McWaters
Here’s a slide show they’ve put together to promote the technique:
Emily and myself use a couple of related techniques in our facilitator training for Transition Leicester’s Footpaths project. The first involves stepping into the role of the ‘difficult person’ to glean insights into their side of the story and then stepping back into facilitator role to act from a position of new-found understanding and confidence. The second is a quick-fire try-out of possible approaches to a common difficult scenario. It’s amazing how quickly people’s understanding can shift from a few minutes of doing and observing their peers doing.
I’ll keep reading about Viv and Johnnie’s technique with interest, but look forward more to doing it.
Facilitators can be seen as difficult people. A different way of understanding this is to consider that there are no difficult people, only behaviours which we find challenging or difficult to interact with. Sometimes these behaviours need to stop – for example violence; but often someone is displaying something that we do not like – as opposed to being a difficult person. PIN analysis says work to the common need – ‘dealing with difficult people’ is a positional play, not one born of collaboration. If I am trying to stop, change or prevent the behaviour of being ‘difficult’ by the other, I’ll probably become ‘difficult’ for the other person.
‘Action Storming’ is be a apt phrase, but what it describes is not novel. Standing in the shoes of others, asking others to help me solve an issue, considering multiple perspectives are the bread and butter of the work we do.