HBR (Harvard Business Review) always makes for a good Saturday evening read. Yes, I know, I’m a big nerd, but while flipping through the articles something I usually resonates with me and inevitably makes me say out loud, “Yes! Exactly!” And it’s done it once again.
In Erika Andersen’s article “Learning to Learn,” she discussed how the ability to constantly be learning is a key competitive advantage. Because of the field I’m in and my own personal passion for languages, I’m perpetually learning a new language or striving to improve on those I already have some baseline skill in. It never fails that when I tell people I’m learning a new language, 99.9% of them ask me what language training school or college I’m going to. I always shock them when I say I just chat with someone in the native language online for four hours a week. No classroom. No notebook. No quizzes. Nada.
Many people believe that learning is still something that must be done in a classroom. But I 100% disagree, and Andersen does, too. She points out that companies will have a killer competitive upper hand if they make learning a daily experience while resisting the urge to keep doing the same thing, sticking to what they know, and doing things the way they’ve always done them.
She reiterates what I say a lot and that is that it’s freaking gutsy to learn something new (like a language) and perhaps look and feel like an idiot 99% of the time while doing so! It’s one of the reasons kids are so good at picking up languages — they don’t have the self-consciousness that we usually develop as adults.
Andersen and her colleagues, who have been doing executive coaching for decades, have identified some key attributes that make someone a successful ongoing learner who is unphased if they mess up: aspiration (they want it!), self-awareness (they aren’t in denial about themselves and who they are), curiosity (they know it doesn’t kill the cat), and vulnerability (open to looking dumb or not like a cool kid).
Learning a New Language:“I Wanna!” Versus “I Don’t Wanna!”
Obviously, a lot of the internal drive to learn a new skill can be attributed to personality, but that doesn’t mean you can’t grow these attributes, Andersen says. As a language teacher, we say that motivation in an adult is half the battle. It’s really hard to make someone learn Spanish if they don’t want to, but if they come to each class and do the activities, they will still get fluent. But of course, the person who goes and finds Spanish speakers outside of class, and tries to speak another couple of hours each week, will most definitely get fluent in Spanish more quickly. Aspiration is there! Andersen suggests taking a positive view of any new learning opportunities that come up. So before you say, “Why are we changing accounting software again!” think to yourself, “Cool. I get to write a new software on my resume, and if I ever change jobs, another company will find me even more of an asset. Sweet!”
Sometimes our perception of ourselves is quite different from how others see us. I have this happen with my friends and family all the time. When my sister told me I was “scary,” I was shocked! I think of myself as a loving sister that would do anything for her. But I guess she sees me differently. Instead of running away from these comments, I dig in deeper. If my sister thinks this, then there must be foundation for it, so I need to learn more about why people think I’m scary or intimidating when I think I’m a teddy bear. I asked my assistant and some other friends if they thought I was scary, and most of them agreed, that yes, sometimes I am downright scary and they would never want me mad at them. This gave me pause, and now I check my actions, words or tone before reacting. Self-knowledge can be hard to face, but it can lead to huge changes in your life, and your work life, as well.
I Swear Curiosity Doesn’t Kill all the Cats – I’m Alive, Aren’t I?
When I was a child, my mom gave me a book called, “The Book with All the Answers.” I guess I had a lot of questions, and she was tired of saying, “I’m just not sure, Micah.” And this was the 1990s … no Google back then in the old days. I’ve always been a curious person, but I know that not everyone is. I suggest looking back into the days when you were a kid or think about your first great passion. What was it? Was it music? Nintendo? Drawing? The Count of Monte Cristo? An insect? Whatever it was, channel that intrigue and desire to learn more about it. The next time your boss or your company says that they’re going to relocate you to a new country (again!) or that they’re going to restructure the entire department (what?!), dig into that childlike mindset and ask yourself, “I wonder what that will be like? Will I like the new weather there? What do they eat for breakfast there?” or “I haven’t ever worked with so-and-so before. I am curious what it will be like to work with her. I know she was at X company before, so I think I could learn a lot!” Stay curious about the change, and it’ll take you far. Not to mention you won’t want to stick your head in the sand during the changes.
When Learning a Language You WILL Make Mistakes
Vulnerability is a big buzz word lately. I know you’re probably sick of people telling you to ‘lean in’ and that vulnerability is actually strength. But doggonit, it’s true. It’s absolutely harder to be open and share than it is to walk away and keep it in. I remember when I first moved to Mexico and had to try out my Spanish for the first time in a realistic environment where no one could save me with English. Honestly, the first month there I felt like a mime. I could get out some words, but most of it was acted out, and people would tell me how to say what I was acting out. I was okay with looking like a doof, but when it came to talking, I hated people thinking I was stupid – especially after getting a degree in writing and literature. I mean, it was my JOB to choose the right words, for goodness sake! So I turned into a mute pantomime lady for the first six months, until a fellow American (and fluent Spanish speaker), said to me, “You know you’re never going to be fluent if you refuse to speak until it’s perfect.”
She had me. It was true. I was not progressing at all because I was too afraid to make a mistake. That was my downfall. I had been in Spanish classes for over 8 years, but still wasn’t really being vulnerable. Soon after that, I decided to make as many mistakes as humanly possible each day – and guess what? I got fluent.
Vulnerability will get us closer to the goals we have, because no one is perfect at doing something new. And if we don’t try new things, then we stay just as we are. And our companies will not grow if the people that make them up do not grow.
Fluency Corp can help you feel as stupid as possible by starting your language lessons. Just kidding… kind of. But you have to make mistakes in order to learn. We can also help your employees and their families assimilate to their country, city and neighborhood through private English lessons (or other languages) in home, in office or online. We transform communication with employees and their families so the success of international relocations are greatly increased. For a free consultation, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or (800) 401-3159. Read success stories at fluencycorp.com/testimonials/.