You can learn something from anybody

I hear gossip about colleagues everyday – in the subway, during lunch, etc. . I don’t really listen to people chitchatting  but interestingly those people around me seem to always be the ones being in the right to complain about others. Until today I have never overheard a conversation in which somebody told her peer that she herself was unfair, illoyal or focusing on her individual success instead of the team’s. Isn’t that funny? It seems that people like to detect deficiencies in others and talk with their peers about them to  assure themselves of being in the right.
What about turning the table? Let’s not try to detect deficiencies in others, but to discover their abilities and individual skills!
You can learn something from anybody. Yes, from anybody. Even if you are a very smart guy with a PhD and/or truckloads of cash. You can learn something in situations and from people you don’t assess as important or of any value for you.

Wise men are able to make a fitting use even of their enemies. (Plutarch)

This is how wise people see it, and this has been my experience, too. Typically, some of the people we communicate with throughout the day, appear to be interesting, who add to our well-being by motivating us or who are just very nice. Others we would evaluate as “neutral” whereas from time to time we speak with people who waste our time, who are mere energy suckers: we talk with them, they complain about this and that, and at the end we feel exhausted.
Conventional wisdom recommends to shun those guys and I do not disagree in general. But especially those negative people, probably lamenting about their own problems and unfair treatments, can serve as (anti) role models: i.e. how not to behave, what to eschew.
Then we meet people who work in lower positions than we do, who are less educated or who simply dress in bad style. And you know what? Each of those individuals can do something better than we ourselves! Perhaps the checker – who left school at the age of 16 and whose monthly salary is your dinner bill – is deeply in love with her man while you’re busy managing your divorce. Or, take the bean counter from your controlling department – a man with thick glasses and without the lightest sense of humor – didn’t you see him last night playing the lead violin in the symphonic orchestra? Every human being is a master of something. And to identify these special skills is what we should do.
My personal experience is that I can learn something from anybody. This is a very interesting experience especially if you don’t expect it. But if you are an open-minded type and you look actively for skills in other people, you will be surprised about how well those skills are distributed.
The other (not: flip) side of these discoveries is: learning what others are capable of makes you humble. It illustrates that you aren’t Mr or Mrs Perfect – and that looking down at people is not only unsocial but doesn’t make any sense at all: if anything, by discovering skills and strengths in others we only learn from them. And this improves our own lives.
Learnings can be big things like learning to have patience, or small things like not to react immediately when somebody criticizes you, but to pause for a second, breathe – and react afterwards – in a much cooler way than you would have done without this mental break. The opportunities to learn come unexpectedly – in many cases you realize it much later. But that doesn’t matter: the most important aspect is that you do realize it, anyway. If that happens, you have been successful – that’s your learning.
Just try to learn from your friends, colleagues, neighbors, and especially from children (many adults would never imagine that they could learn from children at all)! If it works out for you the same as it does for me, you will experience less anger, you enhance your overall feeling and your life becomes more colorful.
You might be interested in reading the reply to this post, by @lenerl.
The photo was shot in Herrsching at Ammersee, a beautiful lake southwest of Munich.

2 Replies to “You can learn something from anybody”

  1. […] This is a guest post by Janine Pfahl, a communication and learning expert. Janine replies to my earlier post. […]

  2. […] This exercise – to really take on your opponent’s perspective and act respectively – is one of the more demanding ones. To change my spots has been quite difficult, today. But, it worked. I successfully imagined some scenarios based on his arguments. The result: as always, I learned a lot by doing this exercise. First: the anger I felt after having left was anger about myself – not being able to cope with the situation in a good way. And – without going into detail, I now know that I really could – and should – optimize my own views and behavior regarding business strategy and sales. I still regard some of his views as flawed but these are details: my key takeaway from today’s discussion is that I learn most from difficult, unpleasant communications. In a wider sense, that reflects that we all can learn something from anybody. […]

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