Are you a learner or a performer? Hopefully, you answered both. The important question is are you ignoring one at the expense of the other? I would say that I much prefer to be a learner rather than a performer. I’d rather go to school then have a job. Read a book compared with performing a task. Yet, in truth I spend most of my time with skills I have already mastered expecting to make few mistakes (performer) rather than learning new skills and accepting I’ll mess up (learner). These things were clear to me in my former job as a teacher, as a photographer, blogger and even as a mom. After watching the following TED talk, I wondered about being a learner vs a performer in human relationships.
In so many of my relationships it has been expected that I would be the performer — keeping the relationship steady without any glaring issues. And I wondered is this why so many relationships fail? In the beginning you need to learn of the other, ask questions, dig deeper past the nice outfit and perfect hair. After years of being married, with the kids nearly grown and the job long mastered — has the learner been cast aside?
How much time do you spend actually learning about the other. If you disagree with the other person do you embrace the moment as a chance to learn about them or do you shut down the discussion? Or fight which is the same thing as shutting down the discussion.
We expect to go through job performance evaluations and our skills and knowledge are tested in schools and sports. Do we ever stop the routine performance of the day to sit down and evaluate our important relationships? Or is good simply good enough?
As I’ve shifted from a performer to learner, I have had people ignore my question, give one word answers, change the subject, let me know it is none of my business, shut me out completely, and be upset because I’m making waves. Let me emphasize that when I say ask questions — I don’t necessarily ask a more personal question — it is that I expect a more personal answer.
“How are you?”
What does fine even mean? Since if things were going great you’d more than likely want to share, it can usually be inferred that fine means not so good. Fine erects a socially acceptable wall, communicating, if you really want to know how I am, you’ll need to get out the chisel. Chipping away at the wall is where being a learner comes in. Pick a category and follow-up.
“So your job is it still your absolute dream job?”
What would you change to have the dream job?”
And keep going from there.
How shocked would you be if a stranger sat down next to you and asked and expected to hear the answer to “How are you?” I would think it was a ploy to take advantage of me somehow. I feel this on a smaller scale when I ask questions and expect answers. So many people get defensive as if I’m somehow going to use the information against them.
If you hadn’t seen a friend in five years, you’d probably assume you had a lot to learn about them. If you saw a friend you’ve seen frequently over the last five years, you’d probably assume there wasn’t much to learn. Try viewing this everyday friend as a long-lost acquaintance, I think you’d be surprised what you’d learn.
Marriages are great examples of this. How much time do you and your partner spend in performance mode: discussing the kids, should you fix the roof, cooking dinner, chores, finances… And how much time do you spend learning about your partner? How much time do you allot to learn a new skill yourself? How much time to you spend learning about your deepest wishes?
Be prepared as you gain trust and prove you really do want to know and the person lowers their defenses — you may learn a whole lot — because it may have been long time since someone asked them “How are you?” or “What’s new?” and actually wanted to learn the answer.