The most eager students already know the most

Andrew Badham 2018-06-26 15:42:16

The most qualified people are the most eager to learn. That sounds obvious, and to a large extent, it is. People who are eager to learn become more qualified; they’re excited to find out new information, techniques and ideas, and so they do. The less obvious trait of these folks is that they’re eager to learn even if the content isn’t new, even if they are already extremely well versed.

I’ve experienced this countless times in class; the most knowledgeable student is by far the most eager to learn, even if it’s only confirming what they already know. An example that always comes to mind was a man in his seventies who came to one of my presentation skills classes. I always start off each class by asking students who they are, their experience and which skills they’d like to improve. I asked the elderly gentleman the same questions, to which he replied; “I’ve been a public speaker for over 40 years and I want to find out if there is anything I can improve upon.”

Immediately, I was taken aback. What insights could I offer someone who had been practising this craft significantly longer than I had been alive? I was so worried that he would take one look at my fresh, young face and dismiss or be bored with anything I could say. Quite the opposite was true. He was by far one of the most gracious, humble and attentive students I’ve ever had.

I’ve had similar experiences again and again, and I’ve experienced the converse as well. The students who need to listen the most, those with so little knowledge or skills that they can’t afford not to listen, are by far the least attentive. So, you end up with a “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” scenario, except we’re not talking money, we’re talking knowledge.

It all comes down to attitude. Those who are attentive have an attitude of attentiveness and will be like that in most situations. Those who don’t won't, even if they desperately need it. Whether that attitude is something we’re born with or something we learn is a little tricky to tell. For our own sake, though, we must act like it’s a trait we can develop.

We need to be aware that there is so much we don’t know, and that knowledge can come from unexpected places. If we have that expectation, we will always be ready to learn. If we expect that we already know a lot, we switch our minds off, and so, learn nothing new. We become anchored to our small, simplistic, and often incorrect understanding.

So, monitor your thinking when you listen to people speak, when you attend meetings or go on courses. Make sure you are not dismissing the information you’re receiving straight away. Ask yourself, what could I learn from this person, even if it is just confirming something I already know. Try to be that old man that, despite his wealth of experience, is so willing to learn.


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