A month ago, despite being a committed sceptic, I decided to take up cycling by making the small but not insignificant step of borrowing a bike. I knew from friends and articles about the potential health benefits, good for the environment and the money I could save by not joining my fellow often stressed out rush-hour commuters squashed onto the London’s tube and buses each day.
My past view on cycling was pretty anti the activity, my bias having been built up over a long period of time. I recalled having seen the odd cyclist, run a red light or scream furiously in frustration at the perceived slights of other road users, I was convinced this was not for me. I believed the roads were too scary, it looked too much like hard work, plus there aren’t any adult learners anyway, are there? It seems ridiculous now, having borrowed the bicycle, I have found a new found joy in riding and had my preconceptions thoroughly challenged.
Not only are there lots of adult learners my instructor noted that at least a third of UK adults don’t know how to ride a bike, but there is a whole swathe of support for budding adults who want to cycle for whatever reason and also for people impacted by cycling!
My cycling instructor Sean shared 2 things that stuck with him and really stuck with me. Firstly when I noted how silly I felt not being able to cycle in a controlled way on my first lesson he noted that when he trained as an instructor he was given a unicycle so that he was reminded of the feeling of being a beginner, thereby becoming a better teacher.
Secondly, that a big part of what he does as an instructor is to teach people who drive heavy goods vehicles helping them to understand a rider’s perspective and why they do what they do, as a way of improving performance and safety on the roads.
What really struck me was how building empathy was effectively being used as a teaching tool. The idea behind this approach is simple but powerful - by building empathy ie seeing a situation from another person’s point of view, it may be possible to improve behaviour and challenge bias.
"If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person's point of view and see things from his angle as well as your own." Henry Ford
Experiential learning and empathy
There are examples of leaders and managers returning to the shop floor as a way of gaining a better understanding of the challenges their workers face and thereby building empathy. I believe there is another underutilized learning tool for creating connection and understanding of others, which is mentoring.
I’ve long been a champion of learning via experience and empathy with a particular focus on mentoring as a teaching tool. At Built By Us, we want to do more than place people into work and training opportunities. From my experience of running a variety of mentoring programmes for over 10 years, it is clear that the impact of real conversations and reflection have a huge impact on both mentors and mentees. Mentoring harnesses a number of benefits including the ability to enable participants to appreciate another person’s perspective.
“Mentoring is most often defined as a professional relationship in which an experienced person (the mentor) supports and encourages people to develop specific skills and knowledge that will maximise their business potential and improve their performance. In short, it is the transfer of knowledge, skills and experience.”
I believe that for the power of mentoring to be truly realised it must leverage the opportunity to teach by creating empathy between the parties who may or may not view themselves as different but equally valuable. By doing this it will be possible to create better understanding between people of different social, economic or cultural backgrounds.
It’s with this in mind that Built By Us (BBU) is launching Inclusive Intelligence a new reverse-mentoring programme aimed at managers and leaders and designed to address one of the key business challenges of today, understanding and leading a diverse workforce while creating an inclusive business environment.
We understand that many people want to do the right things creating benefits for themselves and others, but they don’t always know how. This programme, through human interactions, real conversations and case studies, builds empathy and uncovers a range of personal perspectives on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), with a view to creating and developing new strategies for creating inclusive teams and organisations.
"The biggest deficit that we have in our society and in the world right now is an empathy deficit. We are in great need of people being able to stand in somebody else's shoes and see the world through their eyes" Barack Obama
We would welcome your support and involvement in this programme. To register your interest in taking part as a mentor or mentee, SIGN UP now for more information and future dates.
By Danna Walker Founder and Director BBU
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