It’s amazing how two people can sit through the exact same experience and have completely different impressions about it. When that happens, there’s usually something interesting to be learned in the reason why, if you bothered to look. Dorinda Phillips looked.
Dorinda is an organizational learning expert in Geneva, Switzerland. Early in her career in Germany, she attended a three-hour corporate training course on statistics. And she happened to be sitting next to someone who was already quite knowledgeable about statistics.
As she recalls it, “To be honest, the training was not that good. As an effective learning expert, I couldn’t help but get more and more agitated during the training. The trainer was droning on and on while the class was falling asleep. And nobody had a clue what the business impact of all this was. I felt bad for the trainer and worse for the class.” The trainer happened to work in Dorinda’s department, so she somehow felt a small degree of responsibility and embarrassment for this unfolding disaster.
“When the class was over,” she explains, “I turned to the man next to me and asked, ‘Well, what did you think?’ fully expecting, of course, for him to tell me it could have been so much better. But he didn’t. What he said was, ‘I learned one thing I didn’t know, and I can already see how I can use it tomorrow. And I’m really happy about that. It’s going to be very helpful.’
And I remember thinking, ‘How did he not see how awful this was? Could he not tell that most people weren’t getting anything out of this?’ And that’s when it hit me. I realized that he wasn’t judging the course, or trying to find all the things wrong with it, or even trying to determine what ‘everyone else’ was or wasn’t getting out of it like I was. He was looking at it from a mindset of ‘what can I take out of this that’s useful to me? What can I learn?’ It was definitely a big ‘Aha’ moment for me.”
Yes, Dorinda still wanted to make that training more effective. But she was mostly struck with the unbelievable power of finding the good in things versus finding the negatives. That man’s positive mental attitude allowed him to find value in the course that Dorinda, and perhaps many other people, could not. He attended the same course as everyone else. But his attitude made it useful to him instead of a waste of time.
How often do children sit through a school lesson thinking mostly about how boring it is? How often do adolescents or adults spend their time trashing the last book they read instead of focusing on the few things they did get out of it and how they’re going to leverage it in their life? What a difference a good attitude can make.
As with all of these stories, I encourage you to share this with your kids, and then have a discussion about it. Here are some questions to get you started.
- Think about the last time you attended a class or read a book you thought was awful. Now try to think of at least one positive thing you learned from it.
- Who do you think learns more in a class? The people looking for things they don’t know? Or the people looking for things they already know or things they don’t like about the class?
- Who do you think enjoyed the class better, Dorinda or the man sitting next to her?
- When would it make sense to focus on finding things wrong with the class you’re in instead of looking for what you can learn?
[You can find this and over 100 other character-building stories in my book, Parenting with a Story.]
Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books Lead with a Story, Parenting with a Story, and Sell with a Story.
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