From the Road

From the Road: The Wait 'em Out Kid

Steve Willis is a master trainer and vice president of professional services at VitalSmarts.Steve Willis is a master trainer and vice president of professional services at VitalSmarts.

From the Road

When I was boy, I frequently watched old western shows on TV. I liked them because of the rough and rowdy, shoot ’em up action. At the time, I had most of the shows memorized word-for-word. And while I can’t remember much, one line still sticks with me: “Well boys, looks like we’re just gonna have to wait ’em out!”

Over the years, I’ve remembered and tried to adhere to this advice—especially when it comes to training. For example, after asking a thoughtful question, I’d wait ’em out (wait in silence for participants to respond) instead of rushing in with both guns blazing and firing off half a dozen responses. And my wait ’em out technique served me well. That is, until I ran into Dr. Ethna Reid.

Dr. Reid is a professional educator who has dedicated her career to improving the teaching of children. After many years of study, she’s discovered teachers who increase the rate of participation among students are more effective. She also quickly discovered (and was equally quick to point out) that while I was good at waiting ’em out, I missed the opportunity to increase participation during the wait.

Now, as I approach a discussion question, I do something a little different to increase the rate of participation. I set expectations before asking the question. For example, I say something like, “I’m going to give you about fifteen seconds to think about where and how you could use the skills we’ve discussed, and then I’ll ask some of you to share your thoughts.” Then I wait (the part I’m especially good at) and then call on people to share. I’ve found this simple approach gives people time to process the question and increases the number of people who actually process a response. It also produces more thoughtful participation from the group.

I’m always amazed at how little adjustments in my approach make such a significant difference in participation among the participants and the rate at which they internalize the principles and skills. Thanks to Ethna, I’m leaving my “Steve . . . the wait ’em out kid” days behind.