I’m helping coach a class right now, which is made up of mostly professionals, ranging from their early careers on up to retirement age. It’s the “Dale Carnegie Course: Effective Communications & Human Relations/Skills For Success.” The literature for the course advocates the following:
“You’ll learn to strengthen interpersonal relationships, manage stress and handle fast-changing workplace conditions. You’ll be better equipped to perform as a persuasive communicator, problem-solver and focused leader. And you’ll develop a take-charge attitude initiated with confidence and enthusiasm.”
This is the third time I have been through this course—the first time was in the spring of 2004. I was a “graduate assistant” that fall, helping out the instructor, giving sample talks in front of the class, and helping out class members when they had questions or concerns. Now, 7 whole years later, I am once again helping out a class. Instead of graduate assistant, I am now called a coach. And instead of 12 weeks of class, there are only 8. I’m in a completely different city, with a different instructor and different fellow coaches, but the basic class structure and lessons are the same now as they were the first time I “lived” the class. (A common quote from my first instructor was, “You don’t TAKE the Dale Carnegie Course, you LIVE it!”)
I like this class because it teaches different human relations principles to live by, encourages the students to make commitments to apply the principles in their daily lives, and then holds them accountable to the commitments they made. These are things like:
- Enhance a personal or professional relationship, using the principle, (for example) “Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.”
- Committing to gaining the willing cooperation of a coworker, using the principle, “Show respect for the other person’s opinion. Never say, ‘You’re wrong.'”
- Plan to reduce stress in an area of your life, using the principle, “Live in day-tight compartments.”
Every week, you stand up in front of the class and deliver one or two prepared two-minute talks on specific topics, often stating a commitment or reporting on results from the commitment. Some weeks, you are asked to do some things that really push you out of your comfort zone. Stretch you a little bit. One such time is when you learn to “energize” your communication. In this talk, you are asked to relive a really exciting experience with significant action and animation. I chose to show the class the excitement of catching a big king salmon while fishing in Alaska.
It was so much fun! For this session, even the shyest people come out of their shells and become really engaged. This is incredibly powerful, because it shows them that it’s okay to let loose from time to time; nothing bad will happen, and people will enjoy it.
In order to be an effective coach, I have to make sure I practice my talks. Out loud. Several times. Which sometimes feels absolutely ridiculous, as I stand in my living room, talking and gesturing to the white wall. But I always notice a difference in myself when I have prepared properly, versus when I’m just trying to wing it. Preparation is ALWAYS the better option, especially when I know other people are looking to me for an example of what is expected of them.
There are a couple reasons I decided to find the local Dale Carnegie course and volunteer to be a coach. One is to get myself comfortable again, talking in front of groups of people. I think I’ll be doing a lot of that once I get to Armenia and I want to be better at it before I have to try speaking in Eastern Armenian in front of groups of people. I also wanted to build up my confidence and leadership abilities, for much the same reason. And finally, I’m really curious to see which human relations principles hold true for Americans and which are more cross-cultural, so I wanted a refresher course in those principles.
Every time I’ve been part of the Dale Carnegie Course, I’ve considered pursuing the path of instructor, and this time is no exception. It takes a lot of time and hard work to become an instructor—especially an effective and motivating one—and it never seemed to fit in well with my schedule. Again, this time is no exception. But I realize that I will be coming back from the Peace Corps eventually. And once I get back, I will be looking for a new direction to take. This will definitely be one of my options then.
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