Become a better coach, teacher or facilitator


Become a better coach, teacher or facilitator; push and pull in workplace learning

“Sometimes you push and sometimes you pull, and sometimes you get out of the way.”
Tracy Defoe on the secret to inviting learning and participation at work.

Do you want to be a better coach or facilitator? Are you a team lead or manager who is always explaining over and over.? Are you frustrated by your peers?

If you want to be a better leader at work, learn when to push, and when to pull and when to get out of the way. What do I mean by that? “Push, pull or get out of the way” is one of my mantras, a touchstone that keeps my practice engaging. As an adult educator who specializes in learning at work, I find these simple fundamentals for supporting learning are often big news. To be teaching or coaching someone, you have to know where you are headed. You have to have objectives. Let’s imagine that you do.



Push might mean challenging the tired or disengaged participant to hang in there, or try again. Most often though, push is about content coming at the participant. Push can mean talking, presenting or showing something whether or not the other person is ready to receive the information. PowerPoint presentations are usually push, sometimes 100% push. And we know in most work processes, push most likely leads to waste. Lots of wasted time, and often some waiting, rework or duplication of efforts. Have you ever attended a presentation where you learned nothing new? Push will do that. I tell people that if they can do a presentation in the same way, and within the same time, whether or not there is an audience in the room, they’ve got push. If talking and telling are your only instructional strategies, you are going to be frustrated because you won’t be successful. People will be bored. You need to balance a little necessary push with some pull strategies.

Pull takes a little practice. You have to pay attention to people to get it right.

How do you pull a comment or an idea from a quiet participant? It depends. Is he quiet by nature, insecure about speaking up, or a little lost? A person of few words will usually respond to your question if you wait. How tempting to fill a silence with your own comment, or explanation. Don’t. Work the pause. Count in your head, to ten or twenty or thirty. Breathe and wait as the taciturn participant takes a turn to speak.

Now an insecure participant needs to feel safe in order to speak. Is it ok to not know the answer in conversation with you? Are you the sort of facilitator who says there are no stupid questions and then humiliates a team member who asks something you think they should already know? That strategy is probably sending them farther into their shell. Back up and ask a shy or insecure team member something you are sure they know. Watch your tone of voice. No sarcasm allowed. Then step him or her through to the edge of the learning zone, that place where their understanding drifts off course. That is how you will see where to start your intentional instruction.




What about the lost? If you suspect team members are lost in your session plan, reach out and help them get on track, don’t embarrass them with questions. Go back to your plan and show where you are now, repeat or summarize key points to get to where you thought everyone was. Time for a bit of push; lost team members can’t easily be pulled back on track although a question like might do it. “Where did I lose you?” Or “How can we get back to together on this, can you show me, or tell us the last bit that made sense?” Maintain respect for the lost, and you will retain the trust of the whole team.

Yours for better learning at work,


Leave a comment