Tip #793: Barriers to Learning Potential

“Where processing overload is a barrier to learning, relational trust issues are likely to be present too.”  Mark Burns

In an article by Mark Burns titled “Learning at Work: the three barriers that limit learning potential,” he identifies those barriers as: processing overload, low relational trust and inaccurate self-perception.

Processing Overload

He writes that processing overload is characterized by a feeling that there just isn’t the time or energy for learning. This is may be due to information overload at work or in the training program  that strains the employees’ capacity to take in more content.

He recommends identifying and eliminating work responsibilities that bring no value to teams. He also recommends designing training in a manner cognizant of how the human brain processes information.

Relational Trust

Burns posits that “relational trust is crucial for learning to take place in teams.” If there is no psychological safety, employees will be less willing to ask questions or seek clarification on their responsibilities. This may hamper their creativity because they are afraid to try something new and make mistakes.

This can promote an unhealthily competitive environment instead of a collaborative one. Employees may avoid seeking or giving honest feedback. This is especially damaging, since high quality feedback is necessary for improved performance.

To improve relational trust in teams, he says that leaders need to focus on three key areas:

  1. Personal regard- whether others treat you as a person worthy of respect and value because you have treated them in a similar manner.
  2. Professional regard- the extent to which individuals feel valued and supported as employees.
  3. Modelling competence- even if you are well liked, you need to be competent to be trusted (according to Professor David DeSteno, author of The Truth About Trust).

Inaccurate Self-Perception

The third barrier is inaccurate self-perception, where individuals believe they are performing and acting better than they actually are. They may be affected by the “Dunning-Kruger effect,” where they overrate their performance. As a result, they don’t see the need to learn how to improve their performance.

They may also suffer from imposter syndrome, where they underestimate their own performance. They lack confidence and view learning new things as a challenge they can’t meet.

To encourage accurate self-perception, Burns says that leaders need to focus on three areas:

  1. Lack of shared clarity over what constitutes high performance, so individuals develop their own definition.
  2. Lack of effective feedback, either from themselves or from others.
  3. Ego, either overinflated or underdeveloped.

Burns concludes that: “Where processing capacity is nurtured, and when strong relational trust and accurate self-perception are all in place, the conditions for open learning are present.”

What do you think about his conclusions?

May your learning be sweet.



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