Last week I finished reading The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, which I highly recommend. In fact, at an upcoming faculty meeting I plan on showing my teachers his TEDx Talk, The Happy Secret to Better Work, which mirrors the book’s ideas.
Here’s how Achor begins the book’s final chapter:
A couple of months ago, I spoke to a group of CEOs and their spouses in Hong Kong. Afterward, over drinks at a reception, a very self-assured if slightly tipsy CEO shook my hand and warmly said, “Thank you, Shawn. That research was brilliant and rings true.” He then leaned in and whispered conspiratorially, “I already do most of it, but my wife really needed to hear it.”
The author goes on to explain:
I relate this story not as an example of how to stir up trouble in a perfect stranger’s marriage, but to show that no matter where I am in the world, most people think this research is useful to them, but even more useful for all the people around them. The person we have the greatest power to change is ourselves.
These paragraphs remind me of a conversation I had awhile back with one of my educator friends who is a well-known speaker on educational leadership. In short, our conversation went a little something like:
“I bet there are educators who sit through your presentations and don’t get much out of them because they believe they’re already doing everything you’re talking about. Instead, they’re thinking or saying, ‘If only [insert colleague’s name] were here. She’s the one who needs to hear this presentation!’ Why do you think this happens?” – Ross
“It happens because these people in attendance don’t actually think I’m talking to them. But, I am.” – Ross’s friend
Yes, I am also guilty. At various points throughout my career I’ve announced something to the effect of:
“It was great, but I’m not the one who needed to hear it.”
And, if you’re reading this, I bet there’s a good chance you’ve also said something similar at one point or another. (If not, I apologize.)
When we make these statements they generally apply to presentations and workshops, but they are also relevant to any learning experience, such as reading books or watching TED Talks. Either way, we need to be careful with our words and the messages we communicate when we interact with others, as a misguided approach can easily stifle our own progress while at the same time alienating those around us.
Here are three ways we can check ourselves.
1. We Should Be Concerned with Our Own Learning, First and Foremost
As Achor explains, “The person we have the greatest power to change is ourselves.” When we put ourselves first, our anxieties dissipate because we’ve stopped focusing on what’s beyond our control. At the same time, when we worry about ourselves first and others second, others are more likely to follow our lead. As I work with my teachers to move forward, I honestly think the strongest “tool” I have is the fact I’m constantly learning and everyone knows it (I think). Think about how often administrators tell teachers to implement something (e.g., Writing Workshop) they haven’t taken the time to dive into on their own. Credibility is lost from the very beginning.
2. We Should Stop Judging
Yes, there will always be areas in which we are further ahead than others, but are we then (1) quick to let others know about our knowledge, or (2) quick to work with others without passing judgement? In The Six Secrets of Change, Michael Fullan points out, “Nonjudgmentalism is a secret of change because it is so very heavily nuanced. You have to hold a strong moral position without succumbing to moral superiority as your sole change strategy.” We can think we know more, but we don’t actually say it or act like it. As another one of my educator friends likes to tell me, “I’m secretly cocky!” which is a whole lot different than being cocky in public.
3. We Should Have a Rookie Mentality
In Originals, Adam Grant quotes management scholar Karl Weick, “Argue like you’re right and listen like you’re wrong.” This idea is easier for those who are just starting out in education (or any profession). But at some point in our careers we subconsciously transition from showing up to learn to showing up to impress (at least I know I did). However, when we’re confident in our abilities we can learn and impress at the same time, which I believe is what Weick is implying. As we experience presentations, workshops, books, TED Talks, etc., rather than engaging in confirmation bias by looking to tell ourselves, “I already do that!” (so we don’t have to change), we can instead look to poke holes in our own practices for the sake of progress.
In the End
Nobody wants to learn from someone who thinks and acts like he’s better than others. (Trust me, I know.) And, if our default reaction to learning is one of the following, there’s a chance we may also (unknowingly) have the kind of attitude that turns off colleagues and therefore sabotages our relationships and change efforts before they have a chance to get off the ground.
- It was great, but I’m not the one who needed to hear it. (as previously stated)
- How is this different from what I’m already doing?
- This just reaffirms what I already know.
So the next time we attend that presentation or workshop, rather than using one hand to pat ourselves on the back while using our other hand to point the finger at others, let’s point two fingers at ourselves while asking, “What can I do differently?”
What can you do differently?
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