When Openness to Learning is Hard

By Ryan W. Quinn

The question that we recommend answering in Lift for helping people become externally open (i.e., open to receiving feedback, interested in learning, believing that we are capable of learning and growing even in activities that we do not feel naturally gifted at) is “What are three (or four or five) strategies that I could use to accomplish my purpose for this situation?” This question comes from research on learning goals, and the effort to come up with multiple strategies has been shown to be effective for helping people become externally-open in many research studies. The question is, how many strategies does it take?

Class Discussion

In another discussion I had with the same students I mentioned in yesterday’s blog entry, we were talking about a student who is working on an important strategic issue with a project team. One of the members of the team seems to power- and status-hungry, and her behavior was having a negative impact on the rest of the team. The student who brought the situation up was at the end of her rope, and was trying to think of ways to move this teammate off the team. She admitted that the ideal purpose for her situation would be to get this person to change her behavior and lift, rather than drag, the team, but she was coming to believe that this could not be done.

As the class talked about her problem, they kept returning to the same two possibilities: “talk to her” or “talk to her boss.” These are both, good, legitimate ideas, and worth discussing. After a while, though, I asked, “What else could she do besides talk to the woman or talk to her boss?”

It turned out that this was a stunning question, because nobody had considered any other options. Other options for this woman do, in fact, exist, these students realized. She could change herself, so as to not get bothered or offended by this woman’s behavior any more, and encourage others to do the same. (Not easy, but a possibility.) She could meet with other members of the team and talk to them about how to address the issue. (Not my favorite idea—lots of pitfalls here—but still a legitimate idea.) And there are others as well, including variations on ideas and combinations of different ideas.

The Point

The point is not whether or not these ideas would work. The point is getting ourselves to realize that there are more possible strategies out there than we realize. The point is to open our minds up to the possibility that it can be done. It’s not about me. It about the possibilities, the opportunities, the learning, and the growth. It’s about coming up with ideas for alternative strategies when coming up with ideas is hard.

In other words, the answer to the question of “How many strategies should I come up with?” is “At least one more than is easy for you to come up with.” Or, “Just enough to change the way you feel about the situation.”