These Attributes Will Make You a Great Learner

Learning is crucial for the survival of any organization. As the world changes, companies should be able to reinvent themselves to gain competitive advantage. The problem is that learning is difficult. People often lack motivation, act within their comfort zone, don’t show interest in new ideas, or become paralyzed by the fear of failure.

Great learners share four attributes: aspiration, self-awareness, curiosity, and vulnerability [1].

Aspiration

In our business advisory practice, we often face negativity when trying to implement changes for our clients. Business owners and employees tend to find excuses that reinforce their lack of aspiration. Every leader has probably heard some of the following reasons.

Unsupportive Self-Talk: It will require too much work. I am too busy with what I am doing now. Our method works just fine.

To avoid this problem, we start all our projects encouraging people to think about the benefits that the new behavior will bring to the company and themselves. After people understand how the new desired behavior will improve their lives, they become motivated to practice that behavior.

Supportive Self-Talk: What benefit will I have if I change my behavior? Am I challenged and engaged? How can I contribute to the organization’s higher purpose?

Self Awareness

Being self-aware means understanding your behavior and the effect of your behavior on others and on the results you want to achieve. Asking for honest and open feedback can help you understand your strengths and weaknesses, which can shed light on areas for self-improvement. To be able to act upon others` opinions we have to accept that our perspective is often biased or flawed and we should strive to understand how our ego is influencing our decisions. For example, people tend to subconsciously select information that confirms their current belief, which is known as confirmation bias.

Unsupportive Self-Talk: I already know everything about this. I am right (or you are wrong) about this situation. I am already good at doing this.  

Chip and Dan Heath describe confirmation bias as being your inner lawyer. The lawyer, in this case, is your inner voice that filters through the information from your subconscious mind and brings to awareness only the ones that confirm you existing points of view. That is why you should pay attention to the validity of your self-talk and question how your feelings and thoughts are getting in the way of objective decisions.

Supportive Self-Talk: Is there anything I should do differently? Are my actions aligned with my core values? What am I afraid of? What is holding me back from reaching the results I want?

Curiosity

Curiosity is the root of change. It is what allows people to try something until they can do it and think about something until they can understand it. Good learners can listen like three-years-old. Kids can pick up everything going on around them. They are too young to have developed any confirmation bias and are relentless in their urge to learn and discover. When we get older, our biases lead us to protective questions that reinforce the initial disinterest in new subjects.

Unsupportive Self-Talk: This is boring. This is just another crazy idea. This person’s ideas are wrong.

The core to regain this childhood drive for learning is asking yourself “curious questions” – How…? Why…? I wonder…?  Note how you talk to yourself about things that already interest you and use the same language to become curious about new subjects. Asking curious questions to yourself and your peers will help you become intrigued about the new topic and approach the change process with positivity.

Supportive Self-Talk: I wonder why people find this interesting? How can learning more about this improve my life or work? Why is this change important for my organization and myself?

Vulnerability

“Vulnerability is not a weakness, that myth is profoundly dangerous… Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” – Brene Brown [2]

Failure is an important step for learning a new behavior. It is our failures that allow us to become better at new skills. The potential embarrassment of not doing something perfectly can hold us from trying new behaviors and can lead us to self-judgmental thoughts that paralyze our actions.

Unsupportive Self-Talk: I hate this. I’m an idiot. I will never learn this. What will my coworkers think about me If I get this wrong?

Good learners are vulnerable to accept the learning curve. They are prepared to take calculated risks and learn from their mistakes. In our advisory firm, when we advise leaders to allow their employees to take responsibilities, we like to say that if their employees can do something 80% as good as they can, they should let go of their need for control and allow them to practice that skill. Eventually, their employees develop the desired skill and often become even better than the leaders. We can embrace experimentation by controlling our inner voice.

Supportive Self-Talk: Am I afraid of making a mistake? Am I doing what I do not know how to do? Am I open to let go of control? I am a beginner, but I will master the new behavior.

By changing the way you talk to yourself about the challenges around you, you can become a better learner and smoothly surf the changes that are occurring in your business and your life. Supportive self-talk can significantly improve your interest, persistence, and performance by making you open to learn new behavior and change yourself to become a better professional.

Recommended resources:

[1] Andersen, E. (2016). Learning to Learn. Harvard Business Review, March, pp. 98-101.
[2] Brown, B. (2011). The power of vulnerability. Youtube Video.



Author: Rafael Giacomassi
Rafael is passionate about developing and implementing business strategies. He has developed a diversified background by conducting research in System Thinking, Change Management and Leadership.

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