Recognition in Training: Creating Brave Spaces for Learning, Connection and Psychological Safety

by Sarah McVanel, Chief Recognition Officer, Greatness Magnified

Whether you are a trainer, facilitator, mediator, or, perhaps you are a leader and event professional planning to bring some training into your organization or event, this article is for you.

This post was inspired by an article on LinkedIn on the top trends in the training and development world. Recognition was completely missing. How is this possible?

I want to fill the gap in insight. It’s a reality check. Ready? Buckle down. Rant coming. I think you’ll appreciate it, though.

Recognition is Table Stakes for Learning to Happen

image of one woman training another woman on a headset in front of a computer screenWe need to create a recognition-rich context in every training environment. It is not a nice to have. It is a need to have. Think about it. Can you learn if you think the trainer believes you are not smart, interesting, ready, or worthy? I’ve been in those rooms. I remember the feeling 30 years ago of training to become a volunteer phone crisis worker, and the trainer had decided that I wasn’t cut out for it. Oh, the irony that I was trying to help people’s mental health by volunteering my time, and yet it was causing me anxiety to be in that learning environment!

Any learning context where people feel valued is a foundation for learning. How can someone take on new information and shift their mindset if they are not understood?

Also, a healthy learning context allows participants to experience being connected, collaborative, and empowered with others. Many of you have shared that it’s been a rocky road these last few years; training provides an opportunity to role model belonging so folks can take it back to work.

Raising the Stakes: The Danger of No Appreciation

Recognition is key to creating psychological safety; trainers who aren’t proactively building strategies, such as through authentic appreciation, might leave themselves and group members vulnerable to shame, blame and harsh exchanges that can detract from objectives or, worse, leave people harmed in the moment.

We must be mindful that we are training fairness-minded attendees and live in a cancel culture context. What equity means to one person is not the same as another. Gone are the days the trainer decides what inclusive looks like; let’s invite attendees to participate in a feedback loop early and often. For example, I had no idea how exclusionary my images were. I make a conscious effort to include people of various BMIs (not everyone is a size 2…duh, I’m not!), BIPOC-inclusive, same-sex coupling, non-corporate work settings. That said, I still get it wrong. It’s not being upset when I miss the mark; it’s being curious when I do. It’s not if; it’s when. And it’s helpful! It is not divisive when we realize it’s one step closer to creating a learning environment where everyone feels they belong. We recognize everyone in a learning environment by ensuring they see themselves included – physically and metaphorically.

We also need to lay track early in training, intentionally building “appreciation flashpoints”; we need to get in front of issues, building a sense of “we” and thereby contextualizing the training as a vehicle for understanding (each other as well as the content). Training can be yet another place to connect on a level of our shared human experience.

Do attendees feel a sense of connection, belonging and are valued? If the answer is anything less than “heck yes,” we are missing the mark.

Doing Training “Better”

image of a group of people at a table being trainedGone are the days of didactic one-way telling – and good riddance – with the expert trainer at the front of the room. (Frankly, learning best practices tells us it rarely worked outside of skill-based instruction, and even then, it fell short of the mark.) When learning is a “we” place, it is a healthy space. Learning thrives in healthy, inclusive, curious environments.

Everyone – instructor, attendee, event professional, AV team, client – in the room is an expert in their own experience. Participants come with their own needs; an experienced, attentive servant trainer honours this (and finds joy in doing so). This solution-focused mantra will make learning more likely to “transfer,” and those relevant components are assimilated in real time.

Appreciation is a foundation for all training, so we can create brave spaces where everyone can contribute. Training is the perfect place for people to experience being unconditionally respected, valued and appreciated.

Check out these previous posts with some delicious tidbits to help you “up your training game”:

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

Deb Rakonjac

Organizational Development, Purolator Inc.

"Sarah nailed it!  She worked with the planning group to learn about the organization, the audience, the desired key messages and integrated it seamlessly into her keynote. Her energy was contagious! We received rave reviews of this portion of our event and Sarah was able to speak to all members of our organization in a way that motivated them to recognize others everyday. Our executives were extraordinarily pleased and integrated FROGging into their recent board meeting. Purolator is grateful to Sarah for dropping the pebble and we continue to see the ripples from this session across the organization. Working with Tami was phenomenal and the supports were easy to integrate to ensure the session went well. Thanks to you both!!"
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President & CEO, Swiftco Inc.

"I have had the Sarah experience in numerous settings: As a keynote, around a table with several other business owners, one on one over coffee, chatting with others at a conference reception, dining with a small group of colleagues. No matter the setting you always get the same Sarah: engaging, attentive, interested, inspiring, motivational, genuine. And always with an infectious smile. Do yourself, your company, your association a favour. Get the Greatness Magnified (Sarah) experience. The payback is priceless."
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Director, Marketing and Special Events, Encana Events Centre

"Funny, full of energy and incredibly motivating – all words to use when describing Sarah and her passionate stage presence. We were fortunate to have Sarah join us as a speaker for Spark Women’s Leadership Conferences and her presentations about leveraging greatness hit the core of our objective at SPARK: “A rising tide lifts all boats”. I would not hesitate to recommend Sarah to other organizations that are searching for a well-prepared, well-organized, thoughtful and passionate storyteller."
Shelley VanVeen

Learning & Development Manager, Libro Credit Union

"Sarah brought so much energy and enthusiasm to our International Women’s Day event at Libro! Her message was uplifting, thought-provoking and truly appreciated by our team. Dealing with Sarah was wonderful – she was open, professional and willing to work with us to customize her message to incorporate our culture and connect to our topic and participants. During the session, she was a pro with a powerful message and a fantastic delivery. We had wonderful feedback from all that attended and can’t wait to have Sarah back for another session in the future!"
Sylvia D’Intino

Executive Director, Community Living Hamilton

"THANK YOU so very much for leading the engagement activities today! You’re a constant professional, with an amazing attitude and always seeing the great in everyone. I am grateful for how you have helped us this year to transform our in-person staff recognition events into virtual and on-location events. Our staff feel more inspired, appreciated and motivated after they hear you speak, and I know our amazing in-house team here looks forward to designing engaging appreciation events with your support."
Melissa Chaulk

Manager of Professional Development

Canadian Dental Hygienists Association

"We work hard at CDHA to give our members a wonderful conference experience, so we were thrilled to have received resoundingly positive feedback on Sarah's opening plenary keynote. It was the highest attended of the entire conference for both dates!"
Jamie Campbell

Director, The Center for People in Organizational Development, Sheridan College

"Smart, challenging, innovative, committed, dependable, and reliable, I highly recommend her for all your recognition needs. I have brought Sarah into my last two organizations to help build a culture of recognition and celebration. The focus on appreciation is more important now than ever."

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