Life is change. Growth is optional. Choose wisely.
This past week I finished teaching an eleven-week course at UCLA Extension on “The Dynamics Of Interpersonal Communication.”
It was a remarkable experience for many reasons – and since I haven’t received the class evaluations, I’m presuming that my students also enjoyed the course!
There were twenty-six participants, only four of whom were from the U.S. They ranged in age from early twenties to late fifties. They came from Tunisia, Morocco, Romania, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, South Korea, France, India, China, Japan, Indonesia, Philippines and Mexico. For some, English was their third language.
On the first night, the room was quiet before start of class as each person was focused on their smart phone or tablet, ignoring the person just a desk away.
On the last night of class, the room was a chatter fest, as though these folks had known each other since pre-school.
What accounts for the radical change?
They learned how to have and enjoy a conversation.
Simple as that!
I’m convinced that real learning takes place in a relaxed atmosphere conducive for conversation.
And so each week I’d give them ample opportunities to talk – in pairs and in small groupings.
I’d give them questions that sprung from exercises we’d do related to that night’s focus. No role-play – just conversation in which they had the opportunity to talk from their perspective.
In the talking, they surprised each other.
Most came to the course wanting to learn how to be confident when dealing with the stranger, especially in challenging, difficult situations.
While I taught about listening and emotional intelligence and conflict strategies, more than that I invited them to put down their phone and look at the person sitting next to them – not as a stranger, BUT as a person who just might be worth getting to know.
By the last night of class, they figured out how to allow themselves to be surprised with a new way of understanding others as well as their own self.
And what did they learn?
- That most people come from families that baffle them.
- That most people worry about “what will people think?”
- That they’re not the only one uncomfortable speaking in public
- That everyone longs to be more confident.
- That everyone resists change – even if they say they don’t.
- That learning comes from doing.
They learned the power of story – the power of conversation.
And so they could not help but learn that each person, no matter where they’re from, shares three things in common –
Every one of us
is afraid of something
has lost someone or some thing precious.
Ultimately, they learned, to quote motivational guru Rene Brown –
If I get to be myself, I belong.
If I have to be like you, I fit in.
My students learned how to belong to an international tribe of learners!
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