Fuhrer: Being teachable

Must be open to the information, motivated to learn, willing to take action and willing to change.

“Two words,” I said, “that best express how you feel right here and right now.”

Years ago, I taught a weekend long self-esteem and personal empowerment work-shop and I would start each segment with the same “two-word” request. I did it to encourage participants to look inside and assess their current state-of-mind. For me, it was a great way to monitor everyone’s progress over the weekend. It was rewarding to hear people who started out Friday evening with words like “frightened and confused” conclude the final session on Sunday with words like “purposeful and empowered.”

After a few typical responses, I got to Marcus. He looked back at me then cast his eyes downward.

“Marcus — two words that best describe how you feel right here and right now.” I waited patiently for him to answer. I sensed his discomfort and resentment.

“Pass,” he said. Without further comment, I moved on to the next participant. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my journey of self-esteem-building and years of facilitating workshops, it’s this: you can’t teach someone who doesn’t want to learn. An old saying my father was fond of was “You can’t teach a pig to sing. It frustrates you and annoys the hell out of the pig.” It took me years to discern its meaning.

When it comes to my own personal development, there’s one question I like to ask — especially when I’m just not getting something: “Am I teachable?” To be teachable, I must be open to the information presented, motivated to learn, willing to take action and willing to change. There have been times when I have not been motivated or engaged and thus was unteachable. Typically, it happened when I was in resistance to the topic at hand. I didn’t want to change and, therefore, I couldn’t begin to change.

If you think about the most successful people you know, chances are their success is built upon a foundation of teachability. Matt Keller, American best-selling author of The Key to Everything, claims that a lack of teachability is a “character flaw” that trips up most people on the path to success. Keller goes on to say, “If we are honest, we will find that we are not as teachable as we thought, especially after challenges.”

My measuring stick for teachability consists of two questions, each scored on a scale of 1 to 10. Question one: how open am I to receiving new information? Thus, am I motivated to learn and do I believe that I will get something out the experience? In reality, when I expect to get something out of an experience, I always do. The second question: how willing am I to change? It’s important to note that change may be and is often necessary to move me from where I am to where I’d like to be.

The teachability index has been around for years and is a staple in many training manuals. Here’s the process for scoring: multiply the answers with each other to get your teachability score. If you answered 10 on both, (10X10) then your index is 100! If your willingness to learn is 10 but your willingness to accept change is 0, then 10X0=0.

Another question I like to ask is “How willing am I to give up something in order to free up time to master a new skill?” Acquiring a new skill requires an investment of time and energy. For example, I might “love” watching television, surfing the Internet, dozing on the couch or whatever. In order to bring about positive and permanent change, I will likely need to give up a few things, at least for a short time.

Over the years, I’ve had many people attend workshops and be truly “gung ho” until they discover that changing and creating a better life require giving up something to acquire something better. When faced with this decision, they choose the status quo.

Another roadblock we often throw up in our path to integrating new knowledge is the attitude “I already know all about this.” The truth is, unless you have truly mastered a particular concept, you’re probably deluding yourself. Besides, true masters are always open to learning new things and building upon skills they have already honed.

I learned later that Marcus attended the workshop out of a sense of obligation. Concerned about his reclusive nature and anti-social behaviour, a relative had paid for the workshop as a gift. Obligation seldom translates into teachability and Marcus was no exception. On a scale of 1 to 10 he was zero on being open to new information, zero on motivation, zero on willingness to take action and zero on willingness to change.

Keep in mind, being teachable doesn’t mean blindly accepting everything presented to you. It does, however, mean you remain open to hearing it and free of judgment for the moment. You will not agree with everything, and that is as it should be. If you do agree, then own it, act on it and start making the changes you deem necessary.

“Once we believe in ourselves,” wrote American poet, painter, author and play-wright, E. E. Cummings, “we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” Self-worth + curiosity = teachability.

Someone told me once that what is expected tends to be realized. At the end of the weekend, Marcus filled out a workshop appraisal form giving it a failing grade in all 10 categories. He told me that I was a terrible facilitator, that he hadn’t learned a “damn” thing and went on to demand a full refund of the fee. I just smiled and said no.

Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His most recent book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca