True engagement with others is what we achieve when both sides are actively engaging with each other in a manner that is trusting, respectful as well as positively challenging.
Today I had the privilege of speaking to a group of students who attend what is called a 'kura kaupapa maori'. A kura kaupapa is a Wananga (school) whereby the students spend their time conversing in their native tongue - in this case Maori.
I was briefed that I would talk to the students for a few minutes about Forestry and Farming. The mistake I made was in assuming that the students had an idea of what and how big the industry is. Boy - was I wrong! They had very little understanding of our industry. Then the lesson began...
What happened was the session we had together ended up being 30 minutes in length (instead of the allocated 10 minutes) and the kids were actively engaging with me while I spoke. How did I do this? I told the students that they had to ask me 3 questions before they could move on to the next stage of their tour. That was the starting point for what was to follow.
What eventuated was that as I let them ask questions we developed a conversation whereby the students were able to ask me anything they liked and I did my best to answer them. It ended up that I had to stop the questions because they had so many to ask!
So why did it work?
- I engaged them through making them ask the questions. Making people think is the most crucial element when engaging with others.
- I listened to them. When they ask me a question I always tried to answer it and then I would follow up with a question of my own to get them to continue their thinking which would then lead to the next question.
- I showed enthusiasm and told my own story. This is the acid test - do you keep it real? I encouraged each of those kids to go on and study at University. I am fully aware that some of those kids may never get to University. But I tell my story - which is that I didn't start University until I was 30.
Getting positive engagement with people really is easy. It starts with finding common ground, building trust through communication and ultimately walking away and knowing both sides have received some good from the engagement.
Want to know what i enjoy best about my job? People. Be it mainstream school students, kura kaupapa students right through to senior citizens. I love engaging with them all.