Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Communication Styles and Teaching

Throwing something out for you to ponder on:
People have habitual modes of communication- ways that they try to get stuff from their heads into yours.  There are lots of levels of magnification you can look at this, everything from NLP's modalities to how much a person relies on logic or emotion to make a point.

The habitual modes are a huge piece of what we see (in others) or project (ourselves) as personality.  If someone is loud, uses anger to attempt to invoke fear and tries to stand too close and at a higher elevation, he is read as a bully.  Someone who talks about himself more than the issue at hand is read as arrogant.  Someone who talks around the issue or is constantly distracted by other things is an airhead if otherwise charming and nice; manipulative or stupid if not.

Habits become habits because they worked, and communicating is something that we learn so young that it can be very difficult to change.  Cute talking tends to work at two years old, less so at six or eight.  But, if it does continue to work through six and eight because it is rewarded, it can become a habit into adulthood that doesn't work.  People become bullies because they got away with it.  They become passive victims because that mode protected them from the far more horrific things that they imagined might happen if they asserted themselves.

That's background.

You have a teaching style, (even if you are not officially a teacher, you teach all the time.)  If you have never received specific training or at least given it a lot of thought, your teaching method is probably heavily influenced by your normal communication mode.  If you are a brash, arrogant jerk in your private life, you are probably one of those loud teachers constantly pointing out tiny errors and keeping your students constantly on the defensive.

Two side notes, here-
1) Sometimes this is not true at all. Sometimes when a person drops into teaching mode they have an entirely different personality, often cobbled together from TV shows or memories of good teachers.  This is not always effective- a good dramatic presentation of teaching is not the same as good teaching. What makes good entertainment is not the same as what makes good education.
2) And some people, when they start to teach or put on a blackbelt and get in front of a class undergo a personality change because they finally have the confidence (really the self-perception of power/authority) to start acting in ways that they were afraid to do before.  Almost always negative.

If you have one or a few communication strategies and can't change them, that amounts to a personality disorder.  Think of and treat people as tools and toys, you're an Anti-social Personality Disorder.  Other people only exist to acknowledge your greatness?  Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  You manipulate people through your own emotional upheaval? Histrionic Personality Disorder.  You espouse the deeper truths of a reality not open to the common man (or just believe you've been abducted by UFOs)? Schizotypal Personality Disorder.  On and on.

Most people have a few strategies.  Logic. Connecting the idea to the physical world.  Emotion.  Big concepts or building the idea brick by brick.  Metaphors.  Metaphors presented as truths (a lot of the chi demonstrations I've seen, for an example).

Healthy people change strategies when they don't work for them (an inability to change is why they are called Personality Disorders).  Emotion ("My parents are ill") didn't get me a raise, so let's try logic ("I've saved you 30% in Worker's Comp claims in the last four years.")

That's good, but it's reflexive. It still comes back to the person.  This didn't work for me, so I'll change something. That hurt, so I won't do it again.

They are levels of maturity.
A Personality Disorder is locked into a behavior program that was solidified very young and won't change.

The average person changes strategies based on personal consequences.

A good teacher changes strategies based on what is working for the student.  This is a huge step in maturity.  The focus, for the first time, is outside of the communicator and monitoring the receiver.  This is big and basic. The instant that you grasp that your attempts to communicate are about the receiver, not about you, your ability to communicate- to write and speak and, I don't know, interpretive dance- all jump to another level. Not automatically, it takes skill and practice, but the potential to improve jumps by an order of magnitude.

The next step, with experience, is to plan the communication with the student in mind and from the student's point of view from the very beginning.  It is still about the student, but now trying to plan rather than getting steered by trial-and-error.  You will make errors, though, so you have to keep monitoring. Otherwise, it is about you even when you are pretending it is about the student.


jks9199 said...

A good teacher changes strategies based on what is working for the student. This is a huge step in maturity. The focus, for the first time, is outside of the communicator and monitoring the receiver. This is big and basic. The instant that you grasp that your attempts to communicate are about the receiver, not about you, your ability to communicate- to write and speak and, I don't know, interpretive dance- all jump to another level. Not automatically, it takes skill and practice, but the potential to improve jumps by an order of magnitude.

Wow! Very big thing here.

The biggest challenge in successful teaching, especially of adults, and irrespective of the subject matter, is adjusting the message so that the student gets it. Strategies that work great as an FTO with one rookie are useless with another. A presentation that wowed one group will bore another. A successful teacher recognizes this, and uses appropriate methods (sometimes many in one lesson!) to reach the students.

Kai Jones said...

Fumbling around trying to figure out what strategy will work with *this* student without alienating them with all the non-working ones is my sticking point. Even asking "Do you want a written lesson, a lecture, to watch me do it, or for me to guide you through doing it yourself?" isn't enough and isn't always accurate--people don't know their own learning styles, and that's not specific enough about what labels and language and movements and visuals they need.

Master Plan said...

And then, after this, there's the issue of the various ego issues which can manifest in the students themselves. Sometimes the teacher isn't the only problem.

I know that's not the point of this post but it's certainly the other side of the coin.

Steve Perry said...

Good luck on straining all ego out of your teaching. Because on some level, every more you make is going to be fueled by your ego, and people who are past that are few and far between.

I have a viewpoint, and about things of importance to me, generally arrived at over a long time and with a fair amount of reflection and research.

Few people wake up one morning and of a moment decide that they are for or against abortion. What you believe about that yea or nay now, you will in all probability believe the rest of your life.

Sometimes I can change a position when I see a better or more appropriate path, but the new way has to demonstrate enough better-way-to-go for me to abandon the old way.

No shame in being ignorant. But as we all know, stupid is harder to get past.

The question is not how to get rid of your ego, but how to make it serve you and your students to everybody's best advantage.

Yes, I want to see them get what I'm offering and be better for it. But part of the equation is that I'm getting something from watching them get it. This is selfish -- but not necessarily bad.

jks9199 said...

Teaching starts with ego! There are very few people who teach who don't feel that their way of doing something or presenting the material is best... It kind of goes with the territory, no?

But a good teacher, or a mature trainer, recognizes that their way isn't the only way to find the truth, and tries to help the student find their "right" way. And some material has more "right way/wrong way" or "must be done this way" than others. There are right ways to handle certain calls and wrong ways, for example, for a rookie cop. Or, while it does a wonderful job of stopping a punch, I tend to strongly discourage students from using their nose against the punch...

Rory said...

You have to distinguish between what you are teaching and how you are teaching it. If I am teaching 'X' it is because I believe it is better, for my purposes, then 'Y' or 'Z'. That assessment may be emotional/ego or the result of analysis and I may or may not know which... but yeah, no one teaches without ego.

The teaching method is a different issue. Most start with the method that is easiest for them to teach (some crippled up guys can explain but no longer demonstrate; some athletes can demonstrate but can't explain to save their lives). If the teaching is about the material, it must be transmitted by rote, pretty much. If the teaching is about the teacher, the really bad form of ego driven, then it will be whatever the instructor wants. But if the training is about the student (which is clearly my preference) the instructor must be able to:

a) Assess whether or not he is getting the desired effect (e.g. the student gets it) and
b) be able and willing to switch teaching methods to make sure the student gets it.

ush said...

on a) have you ever dealt with someone who consistently didn't get it regardless of teaching method?

on b) Do you consider any teaching methods to be at odds with your own personality/outlook/ego or whatever else? Would you still use them if needs be?

Anonymous said...

As a teacher, I find two images that speak two me.

One is the Picasso painting "Man of Le Mancha"

Something about windmills...

The other is "To Kill an Elephant" by George Orwell.

blah. Rough week.


Vaughn said...

When adjusting for students, should one teach what they want, they think they need, or something altogether different?

Rory said...

Ush- Yes, I have had a student that I couldn't reach. The weird part was that the person did improve and get better, but I never got any impression that the student understood a single thing. It was weird and I tried everything I could think of. Don't have a good answer for you. Sorry.
There are some places I won't go with teaching. Abuse is one, though some people swear by the positive effects of what I consider abuse. I won't deliberately lie to a student to, say, overcome a fear and get them to try something. This touches on something I'm still working out, so more later.

Robert- Sorry about the bad week. Sometimes the good effects are decades away. You are doing good stuff, even when you won't live to see it. Take a 'thank you' from me, incase your students forget.

Vaughn- That's a very different issue from the communication method, but I'll take a shot at it. It's a good question and something that, I believe, needs to be worked out in advance. I know what I teach and most students only have a vague idea really. So that's the first thing- I'm teaching about violence, not about what you want violence to be. Rhinos, not unicorns. The quality of the student influences a lot of whether I teach what I think they need or what they think they need. There is a balance between knowing the problem and the student. If the student is ignorant about violence and not self-aware either most of the training goals will be set by my judgment. As the student becomes more self-aware and can feel their own weaknesses, they get more of a say because what they think they need will be more valid.
When a student walks in and says, "I have four blackbelts but criminals are a complete mystery" or "I've been in martial arts for twenty years but something bad just happened and I couldn't even tell what was going on," they understand their strengths and weaknesses and can drive their own training.

And that's the goal really, not just to teach but to give the valid skills the student needs so that they can teach themselves.