Forcefeeding Engagement

Dr Andy is giving a course in organizational diagnosis to a group of students in Asia, His students are in classrooms in Beijing, Bangkok and Taipei. Andy gives the course via Skype from his home office in Montreal.

Andy is having a hard time with this course; he feels his students are not engaged. “They never ask anything unless asked. There is too little ‘learning traction. I seem to be talking to myself”’.

Let’s look at what is happening under the surface.

Jie from Bangkok believes that were she to ask about the many issues that go through her mind, she would stick out like a braggart. Her English is perfect since her mother is British and this is very embarrassing for Jie.

Rei from Beijing often has ideas different from those of Dr Andy. However Rei always censors himself because he loves the course and wants to show his respect by not sharing controversial thoughts.

When Norman from Taiwan does not understand something, he fears that were he to ask Dr Andy,  he would be hinting  that Andy does not know how to teach. Norman does not want to hurt Andy’s “face.”

“Engagement” with authority figures (asking questions, taking ownership to be active, sharing opinions) is seen in many parts as insulting, rude and arrogant. While digital reality  and globalism have dented this slightly, cultural codes have not been rewritten.

It is not only difficult to “engage” certain populations, it is downright wrong and disrespectful to try and do so.

In other societies, levels of engagement levels need to be tempered because there may be  too much counter productive engagement. In Israel for example, there is a tendency to speak out all the time, have firm opinions and not show respect to people in positions of authority. Israelis tend to argue for the sake of arguing, which has deep roots in tradition. It is not uncommon for experts to face an Israeli audience and totally lose control of a discussion because of “too much engagement”.


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10 thoughts on “Forcefeeding Engagement

  1. Engagement has to be encouraged and “permitted” by the leader – whether he / she a lecturer / manager or coach.
    Not to be passively expected.

  2. You’ve got to be the GOAT on Western management critique. Pity Gary Hamel ignored you when he wrote on the Future of Management. Since you’ve largely confined yourself to matters human or organization relations dynamics, people in finance or commerce may have missed something fundamental.

  3. I experienced a similar phenomenon in Malysia. The issue, however, was different. While most participants willingly shared their perspectives some of the time, there were periods of utter silence. It took me a while to figure out that the “permission” needed to come from Ishmael. My “permitting” was irrelevant. Ishmael was a revered religious authority within the Islamic community and I (as explained to me hy my faithful company driver) was an infidel.

    As soon as I respectfully exchanged with Ishmael in private, he willingly initiated the conversation…unless an infidel could not be part of the topical content.


  4. The definition of engagement is based on primary education process. The cultural context of the country determine what is engagement in a classroom which is transfered in any type of learning. Understanding thse differences will help the process facilitator to understand the group dynamics and adopt a flexiable outcome based agenda.

  5. Allon; Grade school students today are being involved in Teaching and Learning re Forward looking thoughts of the future, Coincidently, the CLO Magazine published the following article:. Today I would expect that Canada might be picking up some of these “process approaches” like the US. But, as far as the rest of the world that you write of especially frequently; how will their thinking and problem-solving attack skills end up. I wonder. Further, the CLO article has many implications re the success outlook for online learning??? (Note: Joseph George directed this Blog update to my attention).
    Best wishes,

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