Everyone is potentially a teacher

In order to learn from others I must trust them and open my mind enough to see them as potential teachers even if  they are - apparently - less experienced than me in certain knowledge area. The lessons to be learned may not necessarily come from the things others say or do but from the synergy that comes out a trustworthy relationship. It could be something I say myself as an answer to an unexpected question, one that makes me reflect from a different angle. If I believe I can't learn from other person then I am actually building a mental barrier that will prevent me from learning anything at all. No matter if I think the other person's idea is wrong, my attitude should be open enough to let him do and show me how he works in a way that he feels encouraged to do so, in a safe and collaborative atmosphere. In the case am completely sure that the idea (approach or technique) is not appropriate because I've tried it before and failed (even many times), I may suggest not to go there but still give the others the chance to fail themselves: "Do you really think that is the best way to go?, I don't think it is but if you definitely want to try let's do it". Using questions rather than imperative sentences may instill the right amount of uncertainty in others so that they may also be open minded and discuss better ways.

To build a trustworthy relationship one must learn to listen to others. Be willing to listen to others is the first step. Everyone deserves attention, everyone has stories that are worth listening, and so I do. By letting others express themselves I am giving myself the same margin of trust and tolerance that will make me feel comfortable, creative and valuable when talking to others.

Valuable information is not only in what people say but more importantly, in how they say it. When someone criticizes a third person who is not present during our conversation, that's an opportunity for me to know my speaker better. That third person is pretty much irrelevant in the conversation, the important information comes in the way the speaker expresses her feelings, which let me know about her current mental state and the trigger points that make her upset, annoyed or whatever the feelings are. It's a chance to understand my speaker better and be empathetic. Also the fact that she is verbalizing her thoughts may help her listen to herself and realize that she went too far, this is, verbalizing thoughts may break the negative loop. At least it happens to me, when words are already off my mouth there is no way I can hide, the commitment is done and I end up on a different path often feeling sorry about it.

Some people need silent moments, even "uncomfortably" long ones, in order to start talking. I have to discover what are the conditions under which he will feel safe enough to bring what he knows or whatever he's to say.

Listening to people with full attention requires quite a lot of energy. It's important that I tell them when I am running out of energy so that I can make a break. A few minutes of break per hour make a big difference. Recognizing the right time to leave the conversation for tomorrow is also crucial.

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  • Isidro López

    Very, very interesting post, Carlos.

    Technology is important, but with time I’m getting more and more convinced that how we interact to use it, is much more important. And that “how” means the product/business management and all the interpersonal communication involved in all directions.

    What you wrote at the beginning of the post reminded the need of the “shoshin”, the Zen concept of the “beginner’s mind”. Being HUMBLE enough to admit that you can learn from anyone, even from those who might look much less “skilled” than you are. And being humble enough to recognise that even if you don’t fully understand something or agree with something, probably there is a part of “truth” on that different idea.

    And it also reminded me that the best teacher is not necessarily the one who knows more. It’s happened to me lots of times doing pair programming or a code review: the merely fact of thinking out loud, of having to explain something, or just listening to someone, can help you to think about new things (i.e. leaning, improving at something, etc.).

    We (or at least I) have to learn soooo much still about LISTENING…

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts 🙂

  • http://www.carlosble.com/ Carlos Ble

    This is a post for myself not to forget 😉 we all have to learn more on how to listen to others and how to listen to ourselves. Thank you for sharing my friend 😉