I’ve noticed a trend recently of frustrated posts from some of my peers lamenting a lack of interaction in their remote training sessions and workshops.1 I’m specifically worried about the blaming that I’m noticing, because that makes life harder for those of us who enjoy working remotely with clients.
I would like my clients to feel absolutely free to interact with me as much or as little as they need to find value in our time together.
On the other hand, I refuse to take responsibility for the interactions that don’t happen. At most, we share that responsibility.
I commit to try to help participants feel welcome and safe to ask questions, to make comments, and to influence the session in a way that helps them get what they need from it. I commit to improve at this over time.2 And if you’ve working with me and believe that I haven’t lived up to that claim, then I’d like us to talk about it, rather than quietly never speak to each other again.
Even though I insist on sharing the responsibility for how much clients interact with me during these sessions, I also refuse to blame clients for choosing to interact less. I routinely say this during my training sessions (both remote and in person):
No questions? Nothing? Really? Are you sure? OK.
I trust you.
Sometimes you don’t have questions right now; sometimes you don’t want to break the flow of the session; sometimes you’re listening to deep cultural conditioning that instructs you never to question the instructor in front of other people. And sometimes you desperately want to get to a break so you can inconspicuously use the toilet. I don’t know why you’ve chosen to stay quiet; I merely insist that you have that freedom. When I say that I trust you, I mean it.
And if that means that you merely prefer to leave your questions in chat or in our shared inbox to tackle the next day, that works for me, as long as you know that we might not get to those items exactly when you’d like us to. I still have a core plan to follow, at least some of the time.
Blaming About Not Blaming?! Hypocrite!
I recognize that by virtue of posting this at all, I appear to be blaming workshop facilitators and trainers for their actions. This would seem to undermine my point. Maybe or maybe not. Please let me articulate what I’m thinking and feeling while I search for a blameless way to articulate it.
I understand the frustration that these workshop facilitators feel. I don’t really share it, but I understand it.
I used to interpret a lack of participant interaction as (always) a problem that I (always) needed to address. Now I see it as their decision.
- They are welcome to interact with me as much or as little as they like.
- They are welcome to interact with me by speaking or writing, as they need.
- They are welcome to write to me in real time during the session or in between sessions, as they need.
I can’t guarantee my responsiveness outside of the session hours and I can’t guarantee that I’ll do everything they want exactly as they want it, but neither do I expect them to do everything I want exactly as I want it. How we interact together remains, as always, a negotiation between us.
I merely notice the trend and find it troubling. I don’t want to blame anyone for venting their frustration and at the same time I don’t want to merely watch companies become sour on remote work with folks such as me because they’ve read some rant by a person whose opinion they trust.
Remote training, mentoring, and consulting have significant advantages over my traveling to meet clients on site. Not always and not in all situations, but very often, and likely more often than they think. I don’t want companies who fit the profile to miss out because someone in their circle blithely tells them how terrible and awkward remote training is… at least according to some online posts they’ve read lately.
Self-Serving, But True
I recognize that writing this article is blatantly self-serving. “He likes working remotely with clients, so he’s merely trying to protect one of his sources of income!” Yes, I am doing that.
And I stand by what I’m saying, nevertheless. The motivation for the argument doesn’t, by itself, invalidate the argument, does it?
“This is just a marketing thinkpiece!” Yep. I’m trying to help organizations who already feel open to working remotely with a person such as me to find me. I’m giving them a reason to prefer to hire me over someone else who might treat them in a way that they wouldn’t want to be treated. That’s definitely marketing.
And yet, I actually genuinely commit not to blame you for how much or little you choose to interact with me during a training course. (As long as it’s civil, anyway.)
And if you truly prefer non-interactive training, maybe self-study training by video fits you better for now. After that, you might feel eager for something live, remote, and interactive. I’m ready when you are.
You might view this skeptically, because I haven’t named any of the people involved nor linked to their published rants. Maybe I’m making the whole thing up as a dramatic device in order to fabricate motivation for this article! I assure you that I am not. At the same time, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s livelihood, so I’m not mentioning anyone by name. I also don’t want to blame them for their reactions before I’ve got to know more about what lies behind those reactions—especially in an article about blame.↩︎
I had an incident with a client in 2022 where we failed together at this. That led them to cancel a second planned workshop. I changed some of my introductory content in order to reduce the likelihood of failing the same way next time. I didn’t enjoy their feedback and I felt like they didn’t take enough responsibility for the results, but I learned something from it and the memory remains fresh enough for me to have it in mind when running these sessions.↩︎