Helping Others Learn
The well known old Chinese proverb says, If you give a person a fish, he eats for a day, if you teach him to fish, you feed him for life.
Teaching a concept to others is like that. They learn and can apply the concept. But teach someone how to learn, how to increase their knowledge, and you have given them a gift for life.
Teach someone how to read or listen effectively, so they remember what they read or heard, is like teaching them to fish.
Most people hardly listen. They can’t remember someone’s name nor what they said. When you learn to listen for content and context, for the meaning, then you will remember and those who feel listened to will remember you for that appreciation you showed.
Mental shortcuts, we all make them throughout the day. In a sense, they are necessary coping mechanisms your brain has been developing your whole life. Because there is no way to pay equal attention to everything within eyesight, earshot, and close enough to touch, our brain has developed filters to let in what it believes you need to know and leave out a large majority of what is going on around you.
Consider for a moment how you function during your daily drive or ride, or even walk, to work.
Most of what you pass by is a blur. Most of what you pass you take little or no interest. So much so that when you arrive at your destination you will not remember seeing or hearing most of what was actually there.
Your cognitive bias made those decisions for you. The filters you have built up to protect yourself from over stimulation and clutter worked.
But, and that is a big but, did you miss something that in the past wasn’t important but now is? Did you assume you knew what happened but really didn’t?
We can’t function in a busy world without our filters and we can’t take for granted that we didn’t miss anything important.
So what can you do? Ask others what they saw and heard. Ask for other viewpoints, other experiences, to add to your own. Be open minded about what you might have missed or added into a scene because of your filters, your own cognitive biases. They, too, have biases. Together you may both get a more complete picture.
Ask open questions and listen openly to the answers.
When an employee, family member, or friend brings you problem they are facing, how can you tell if they want solutions from you or for you to just listen?
Also if they are looking for a solution, ask first what they have tried or thought they could try. Get them thinking first.
Then if it does come down to offering your ideas, offer options, plural, so they can choose, and make it clear that these are ideas that if they choose something different you won’t be hurt. The choice is still their own.
Questions are a sign of intelligence, of interest, of curiosity, of caring about the other person and the topic, and of being a critical thinker. Can you think of anything else you can say that is this powerful?
Questions, to be able to drink in that power, must be paired with power listening.
Once you ask that question, it is essential that you become silent, wait for and pay attention to the answer.
Some people try to answer their own questions. Some think that the other person pausing to think before answering means they don’t know what to answer.
Just like asking the question is a sign of interest in the other person, waiting and paying attention to the answer is a sign of respect.
Business Meetings are a microcosm of how your company includes and excludes ideas and contributions. Who speaks up, and even more important, who is listened to. Who gets credit for an idea, who takes credit for an idea. Who grumbles. Who rolls their eyes. Who keeps looking at their smart phone or laptop. And do they do it consistently when certain people are speaking.
Conscious and unconscious bias is contagious. Like a sneeze, we can pick up the disease without realizing it.
What sites, blogs, or newsletters do you subscribe to now to improve your thinking and decision-making?
Everyone and anyone can improve and it should get better the older you are and the more you have learned and practiced over the years. So what do you do to get better all the time?
Please respond to let me know. Also if you ask your friends and associates the same question, you will start a great conversation.
Recognizing and overcoming mental blind spots.
It may seem strange to say that you see with your brain. Yes, the eyes are the windows. They let in the light waves and movement that get interpreted by the brain. If the ocular nerve (going from the eyes to the brain) or the part of the brain that interprets the signals is damaged, you don’t see. You are blind even though there may be nothing wrong with your eyes.
We can also have a mental blind spot or mental lack of hearing spot because we are not paying attention. Our brain has learned to ‘block out’ sights and sounds that have proven in the past not to be important to you. You may not notice that there is music playing or people having a conversation in the next room until someone brings it to your attention.
Mental blind spots can be there in a person’s brain about any subject and not just about sight or hearing. You may be listening but not paying attention to someone talking to you, maybe even your spouse or parent, until suddenly they say something you really care about. At that point it is as if your brain suddenly wakes up and pays attention.
You can be driving along the streets in your city and not take any notice whether parking is readily available until you get to the street where you will need parking.
There was a story several years ago about a man who had a large family but not much income. During a hot summer spell his children started begging for an above ground pool for the back yard. He told them he couldn’t afford it. Then he left for work driving on the same highway and streets he took five days a week. Suddenly he noticed a sign behind a house he was passing that said, “Above ground 15’ pool, free, to anyone who can pick it up.” He pulled off at the next exit and found the house. When he rang the doorbell he asked,”is the pool still available? How long have you had that sign up?” To his surprise the sign had been up for two months. He had been passing it nearly every day and not taken notice until his children raised his awareness of wanting a pool. His children got the pool they wanted.
We have to turn on our brain to a subject. We have to be paying attention. That is why trying to multitask gets in our way so often. If you are looking at your phone you can’t be paying attention to the meeting you are attending, or the road while you are driving.
Everyone can learn to listen better though some are already better than others naturally. The trick to help you focus is to be listening for meaning. Hearing the words, even repeating the words is no guarantee that you understood what was said. Listen and clarify for meaning not the words.
Some tips to improve your listening for meaning:
1. Paraphrase what was said. Then ask did you get it right. Paraphrasing is not repeating the words, instead it is restating in your own words an shorter, simpler, more straightforward if necessary. Consider a situation in which someone said something short in a language you don’t understand. you can repeat the words but still have no idea what they meant. They will even say you got it right if you ask them.
2. Ask for a diagram. Draw a quick picture, stick figures and arrows can be very effective. Or use mind mapping or a flow diagram. Don’t worry about getting the diagram perfect. The purpose is improving communication and understanding, that’s all.
3. Ask for an example.
4. End with, “Did I get that right or what did I get wrong?”