Connecting with others: Linking to learn
Maurice Gibbons (c) 2008 Personal Power Press International
1. Self-direction requires reaching out to others for many reasons.
2. Seek teachers: Find mentors and learn from them.
3. Find collaborators: Build a support partnership or team.
4. Develop a cooperative style with individuals and groups.
5. Teach in order to help and to learn.
Connect with others
Becoming self-directed does not mean that you become a lonely individual working quietly at a desk or a computer all the time. Working on your own will happen, but it works best when it is accompanied by connecting with others. Work with others for guidance, assistance, teamwork, companionship, and giving.
Rapinder is studying hard to understand the difficulties people in low-lying Bangladesh are suffering from the monsoons and rising oceans.
She asked Vishnu from the weather centre to help her, and now she goes to the weather centre on Tuesday afternoons to work with him.
On the Internet, she found two other people interested in similar problems and formed an alliance with them. They share information and ideas, and they are talking about doing a project together with a Bangladesh community.
Rapinder had never done any work like this with others and was challenged by all of the contacts she made. She found a local class on working with groups and enrolled.
When she felt well enough informed, Rapinder went to the school nearby and volunteered to tell the students about the coming crisis in Bangladesh that could see large parts of the country underwater permanently.
There are teachers everywhere. Seek them out and ask for help.
Mark never did take a course in sculpture, but he had many first-rate teachers in the field who helped him informally. Native carvers introduced him to new tools and ways of working with cedar.
He looked carefully at the wood sculptures in museums and found an expert in native carving around the world who talked with him several times. He stopped a teacher on the street carrying an interesting wood sculpture. It was his. He took Mark to his school and showed him the band-saw technique that he used.
He says, “I have had over a hundred great teachers who were there when I needed them with the right stuff. I still use that band-saw technique.”
Seek out people with knowledge and skill in your area of interest
Learn to ask for help
There are some guidelines that will help you to be successful in securing help from others. In asking for help, you are more likely to be successful if you...
* know something about the field first so you are not asking an expert about basics you could find anywhere.
* approach the person tactfully and gracefully.
* talk little; listen and watch a lot.
* do something in return—clean-up, run errands, help in any way you can.
Guided practice is one of the best ways to learn new skills. If you can, work under the watchful eye of your mentor. If you can get a job doing what you want to learn to do, terrific.
Find collaborators to work with.
Together we learn and accomplish more than any one of us could, and what we learn together, we can later do on our own. Making our statements out loud makes them real; hearing others respond helps us to sharpen our ideas and plans. We learn from each other and teach each other a lot.
When one faculty at Simon Fraser University formed support teams of three members each for professional development, the teams were not only successful, some teams met regularly for ten years afterwards.
Teams also provide camaraderie, support for your plans, and help when you need it. You can also become a team to work together on a shared plan.
Teams of three work well. Lots of airtime for everyone, some diversity of opinion, and a reasonable number for teamwork.
Find team members among your friends and acquaintances, on the forum in this program, or by an Internet search
Become skilled at working with others.
Working with others successfully is a unique experience that requires special skills. The main shift is to thinking about the welfare others as well as your own. This is a selfish as well as a generous concept.
Assume that this is everyone’s goal: to make sure that each group member is successful at designing and executing challenging projects. One key purpose is the productivity of everyone.
Learn to stop and deal with process whenever the group stumbles. You may be dealing with Bill’s plan to protest the carbon tax and begin to argue, perhaps heatedly. This would be a good time to call a halt, to step back from the group activity and ask, “Why are we arguing when we are supposed to be supporting each other?”
A profound aside: “The process you are using seems perfectly designed to produce the results you are experiencing.”
The general guide to appropriate behaviour for a successful group is to be sure that everything you do builds rather than drains the effectiveness of the group. Contribute, don’t sit silently. Listen, don’t dominate. Admire, don’t criticize. Think about what the group needs, not just what you need. Give freely of support and assistance. For a start.
Here’s what drains group energy: being late, absent, or unprepared; distracting the group’s focus, rejecting other’s ideas, not participating, always talking and seldom listening.
Make your group expectations clear
Start on time. Agree on an agenda. Keep a record of decisions, plans and agreements. Decide whether or not to have a leader (with three you can easily share leadership, but see what works.). Be democratic; be sure your decisions are by the majority. With three you can decide by consensus. Finish on time.
The key to a working group is to be efficient and productive. Do everything you can to set that up.
Above all, share air-time equally. When you discuss your projects, be sure that everyone gets equal time.
Build group spirit. Create the sense that meeting is worthwhile, that you are a special group, that you look forward to getting together, and that you are really progressing.
Here’s what builds: being on time and ready to participate, focusing on the task, offering ideas, adding to the ideas of others, volunteering to help other members, and addressing and solving real group problems.
Make your team the kind of group you always wanted to be a part of.
Develop social intelligence and a cooperative spirit
The key to social intelligence is knowing your own feelings and expressing them authentically, and sensing the feelings of others and responding to them sensitively.
Feelings drive our behaviour. We should all know them, recognize them and be able to guide them. Regularly ask, “What am I feeling now?” and identify the feeling. You may also ask, “What is the thought that is driving this feeling?” You may, for example, say, “I am feeling sad because my brother is upset with me and won’t talk to me.” If you want to change your sad feeling, change, or deal with, your thinking. Say that your brother is mistaken or call him and deal with it.
Empathy is the ability to sense what other people are feeling and to respond appropriately. You may, for example, sense that someone in your group is disturbed by something that has happened, and ask, “Favia, you are frowning. Are you unhappy with the way this is going?” It is far better to deal with disagreements upfront than to let them fester and grow. Respond to positive feelings, too.
A great deal of group life occurs at the emotional level. Learn to sense it and be guided by it. You may want to start your group meetings with a one-minute check-in during which members each report on how they are feeling. This may lead to some issues that must be dealt with.
All of this is about cooperation, working together for mutual benefit.
Give to others
One of the major ways of connecting with others is to give freely of yourself and what you have.
We give out of generosity, without expecting anything back, but people who give often say that they have benefited more than the people they have given to.
Find a way to give to others. Start with your group and then go beyond it. When you can, share with others what you are learning and accomplishing in your field.
Maurice Gibbons (c) 2009 Personal Power Press International