I was 3 meters under the surface of the Ardingly Reservoir. I was surrounded by muddy, murky water, and hyper ventilating through a mouth piece. All I could see was my scuba diving instructor’s face in front of me. My final test before I got my certificate was to remove my mask and put it back on under water. But I just couldn’t, I was too scared, and my instructor knew it. So he sent me back up to the surface immediately, and allowed me to skip this particular test.

A year later I was in Turkey. The water was much nicer this time, and I was getting ready for a dive. The instructors had us run through various tests to make sure we were ready to dive, and one of those tests was again removing my mask and putting it back on again under water. And they noticed I froze when it came to this one. They were surprised to discover that my previous instructor had allowed me to skip this test.

This new instructor took me aside and helped me calm down, and gave me time to practice. After some persistence, and a lot of support from the instructor, I was finally able to pass the test without panicking at all. In fact, I felt so thrilled by my achievment that later on during a dive I purposefully removed my mask and put it back on again.

What was different here? Was it the calmer clearer waters in Turkey? Maybe. But another big factor was the instructor. The first one had no confidence in me at all, whereas the second one did. And their confidence in me gave me more confidence.

Part of both the privilege and responsibility of being the person to instruct, guide and lead others, is to believe in them. But sometimes we forget to believe in them. Sometimes we get so caught up in our own feelings and expectations, sometimes we lose patience, and sometimes underestimate the power of our belief in them. So here are three simple yet powerful tips:

Appreciate Them
Sometimes they need to leave the room. Sometimes they turn up and can’t focus. Sometimes they aren’t progressing as fast as you’d like them to. But fundamental to your ability to believe in them is your appreciation of them.

Remember that they are trying their hardest. Remember that there are a number of challenges they are facing that you aren’t aware of. And most importantly of all, remember that there are always more things you can appreciate about them that you might not have realised.

When I feel that I am not appreciating the people in the room, I focus on finding 3 things that I appreciate about each person. It might be the fact that they turned up on time, or that they smiled at me, or that they encouraged other people to speak up. There are always things to appreciate.

Learn From Them
There is always something that we can learn from our learners. For example, there are a number of experiential activities that I have run countless times. And you would expect that each time during the debriefs the same points almost always come out through discussion. And whilst the same points do tend to come out, the ideas each individual has about how to apply those to their real life scenarios are almost always unique.

Remember that they will have something to share that you don’t know. Remembering this changes your attitude from one of instructing to one of facilitating. When we facilitate more, our humbleness gives them the confidence that their insights are of value to everyone in the room.

Be Patient
You ask a question and it is met with silence. Eyes start to gaze up at the cieling, and hands reach out to scratch chins. You have initiated the process of reflection, and now is the time for you to step back and wait.

Unfortunately what can happen when we lack patience is that we don’t wait, we just answer the question for them. And the less chances we give them to answer by themselves, the more we are unconsciously communicating to them that they cannot answer by themselves.

Part of believing in them is knowing that it can take time for them to find the answers, but that is all it takes. If we give them enough time and enough support then they can find the answers by themselves. So step back and let them know they have all the time they need.

The 3 Elements of Believing in Learners
Your belief in your learners has a direct impact on how well they learn. So always take the time to set yourself up to believe in them by remembering to:

  • Appreciate them
  • Learn from them
  • Be patient