Seeing things differently

For those of us that work in HR, being kept in the dark is nothing new. Only last week, in Hamburg, I really was in the dark……for the best part of a day.  When I look at a meeting agenda and it includes the phrase, “experiential session” that is normally sufficient to get me reaching for the Blackberry and the “urgent” email that requires my immediate attention for, well about as along as the session is going to last. But on this occasion, there was no escape.

The experience was created by Dialogue in the Dark, a social enterprise which brings together the sighted and the visually impaired and essentially turns the tables. For several hours, you are immersed in darkness and complete tasks and everyday routines with the guidance of visually impaired coaches. As they say of themselves, “Blind people are the “sighted” ones in this environment and can demonstrate their capabilities better than their sighted colleagues” and I can tell you, in my case that was absolutely the truth!

As I say, I’m not always the keenest on interventions like this, to quote someone far cleverer than I, “team building is for suckers” but as it goes, this experience was really something out of the ordinary and after a weekend of reflection, here are the things that I’m still mulling over.

Listening is hard when there is so much “noise” – So we all say we know the value of listening rather than talking (ok….well apart from you at the back, but if you see me after class we can pick that up one on one).  But when you really NEED to listen, you become aware of how much noise there is and most of it is coming from humans. We talk too much, we make too many statements, we don’t ask enough and we don’t really listen.

Trusting people is tough – This isn’t about trusting people in business, this is about trusting people with your wellbeing. We didn’t get to see or meet the coaches before we were working with them (as a visually impaired person wouldn’t get to see you or I before we offer to help them). They could have led me into walls, tripped me up or got me to pour boiling hot water over myself (yes, we made coffee in the dark) from an initial position of wanting to just do it all myself, I had to let go.

Touching reassures – When you are in the dark, when you can’t see an inch in front of you, when you don’t know which way to turn or where to go, feeling a gentle hand on your arm means the world. Am I being metaphorical? Yes and no. Touching is not wrong, just be careful.

We’re not hitting home – Or alternatively, we send too many half packets of data and rely on the receiver to decode. At one point, one of my fellow delegates informed me that there was a step ahead. As I took an exaggerated comic step up, I learned to my expense that it was a step down….thankfully my face broke the fall. He was trying to help, the information was sent with the right intention, just not the right content.

You can nudge as well as stride – In the collaborative tasks there were two types of leaders, the striders and the nudgers. The thing about striders is that they assume you’ll follow and when they realise you aren’t, they are too far ahead to make amends. Nudgers may seem to lack the dynamism, but they bring everyone home together.

Did I really get all of that out of one day? Well I guess with these things, you always have the lingering thoughts, they just sometimes need to be brought to the fore.  Dialogue in the Dark was really different, it was really valuable and perhaps most exultingly they are working withschools and children as well as adults. It doesn’t exist in the UK at the moment, lets hope someone is farsighted enough to change that soon.

*I apologise unreservedly for that last line…..

5 comments

  1. Damiana Casile · May 14, 2012

    I think ‘Dialogue in the Dark’ started off in Milan around 7 years ago. It really is a great initiative. Ever since I went 6 years ago, I have always wanted to go back! It really is a worthwhile experience and I really enjoyed reading this post. It brought back good memories.

    • Neil · May 31, 2012

      Thanks for commenting. It is fantastic isn’t it. Great initiative.

      • Damiana Casile · May 31, 2012

        Thank you for reminding me of it! I’ve just booked 4 places for Monday! I’m going back to Milan and taking my family with me.

  2. Gareth Jones · May 18, 2012

    The thought of you taking that comic step – made my Friday night!

    More seriously though, nice post, lots of reflection. The point about noise and listening is so true. You may have read the book – time to think. If we all listened more, we would all have more time to think, to digest, to rationalise.

    Sounds like a great experience. Thanks for sharing!

    • Neil · May 31, 2012

      Make more time to listen. That should be over the door of every corporate enterprise…..

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