5 Word Shift to Better Understanding

5 Word Shift to Better Understanding

Awareness of how communication works is essential to leading change. By understanding how verbal and non-verbal signals operate, better outcomes happen. For instance, think of a time when your compliment was misunderstood? Or made a neutral remark and surprised at what was read into it? How?

Harnessing a presupposition that all feedback is a direct result of how communication happens, this shifts responsibility back to the communicator so any misunderstanding is simply because I didn’t communicate sufficiently well. Accepting this thought is empowering because I can only control my own action removes frustration and focuses instead around how communication operates. Verbal and non-verbal cues. Shift to a specific choice of vocabulary in response to feedback from the receiver.

 

Remember playing Chinese Whispers? The game where messages change as they are passed person-to-person. Hold this analogy and delve into how the nervous system continually filters information in order to discern what is relevant and determined by perceptions of time, space, memories and language.

Remember playing Chinese Whispers? The game where messages change as they are passed person-to-person. Hold this analogy and delve into how the nervous system continually filters information in order to discern what is relevant and determined by perceptions of time, space, memories and language.

 

How?

Stop.

Look, listen and feel, smell and taste.

Think.

What are you now aware of that you didn’t notice before? Traffic? Background music? Sun rays streaming through a window? A cool breeze? Is it lunchtime already? Yew, I ate garlic last night?

 

There is a continual and never-ending deluge of information for the brain to process and make sense of; it deletes information from conscious awareness, distorts for meaning and generalises to simplify. The brain filters information for understanding and conscious thinking manageable. For example, if you though consciously thought about raising your arm, it would be necessary to think about every bone, sinew and muscle; instead we operate an unconscious automatic movement. Likewise, the automatic action to open doors and, a red traffic light or flashing blue of a police car, is translated as ‘stop’.

Filtering is a process. Next it is how interpretation happens and gives each of us a unique understanding of the world; not a dictionary definition but how a word, action or behaviour resonates. What are your internal representations? When snow is forecast, I immediately think of cold wet feet then worry about driving conditions on slippery roads. This is in direct contrast to my husband thinking excitedly about skiing and snowball fights; one word with two very different internal representations.

Though we live in the same physical territory, navigation of our world is by our own map; how our own reality is defined by individual perceptions and beliefs. How and what we experienced during formative years; culture; religion; parents; teachers; peers; significant emotional events; a boundless list. My grown-up kids tease when I call for them by name. From my perspective, why wouldn’t I do this as it’s a great way of attracting their attention? It’s perfectly obvious! However, in doing this, their reaction (representation) is that they have done something and jump to attention, assuming they are in trouble. I didn’t pay much attention to this until the same thing happened when I called out to a colleague, a distance away at the other end of the staffroom…

I began to consider high frequency classroom words. What are they and how do they affect behaviour? What do these words communicate do they support the needs of students? Do these words trigger negative internal representations? Am I using particular words with the best possible intention or are they used for the quickest and easiest way to manage what I want? Am I leading to find possibility or managing my own outcome expectations?

However, I’m not suggesting words need blasting to oblivion, but do suggest developing awareness in using words for effective outcomes. My initial words are to examine how should, must and need contrast with what and how. How do I use these words? What is the feedback? How can I develop my skills to encourage student thinking? Do respond (or ignore) verbal and non-verbal cues? Do I empower?

Should:

 

“By doing X, Y and Z because you tell me I should, I am doing this for you. You have negated my thinking so instead, please ask how I could approach this? I would like to own this.”

“By doing X, Y and Z because you tell me I should, I am doing this for you. You have negated my thinking so instead, please ask how I could approach this? I would like to own this.”

 

Must:

What would happen if I didn’t? What would happen if I did it differently? What wouldn’t happen? How can you help me discover this urgent necessity myself? How can I understand how any consequences directly affect me?”

Need:

“So, you need this? How does this affect me? I have different ideas that will be helpful if I figure how. How can you help me to do this for me?”

I’m sure few of us have students who would speak quite like this but you get the picture? Is there ever only one way to do something and that disempowers students the opportunity of thinking differently? We already know that empowerment and motivation are partners to learning so how do we lead our students to this?

Should, must and need have their place where their meaning is about what I want to happen and this has its place – students should/must work neatly so I can read their assignments; students need to tidy away after a practical lesson as this is part of caring for the school environment.

How places the responsibility of thinking with the student and this does require ‘time to think’. It’s good practice to use questions to confirm learning and I am wholeheartedly guilty of asking specific questions for specific word-guessing answers where even before students have collected their thoughts, I have moved to another eager student or even provide the answer myself. Familiar? What realised is if I explain I am looking for a specific answer plus what or how information, I have already set the scene for thinking; we can now have fun trying to reach the answer I need then spend time to explore what they think around the subject.

How draws past experiences and allows me to process and understand what this subject means to me. When an answer needs be categoric, for example 8(3×2) +12-4 the student does need to demonstrate an understanding of formulae and if this isn’t forthcoming, how could it be different if you asked what the student needs in order to complete this?

What and how questions develop deeper understanding so are particularly helpful in Pastoral Care. Why did you do this? Vs How?

A simple shift in how using 5 words to improved outcomes. How do you?



4 thoughts on “5 Word Shift to Better Understanding”

  • This blog is useful in its analysis of language and begging the question about how it is used. Another question might be asked about how much time and space teachers might be given to engage in such conversations. As a teacher and researcher it is not often that professionals engage in these critical conversations about how they use language. It seems that in suggesting to have these conversations in schools is to find fault. Instead this process should be undertaken with the intent to promote understanding and innovation. To make the unconscious conscious and strengthen the process of motivation and learning.

    Thanks for creating the space for engaging in this conversation.

  • Indeed, innovation and understanding is the intention. By considering the effect of how using key questioning words can result in even deeper understanding and hopefully is a action that doesn’t demand time and space; a practiced and ongoing process.

    Thank you so much for your reply and making the succinct observation of how bringing an unconscious process to conscious thinking in order to promote understanding and learning.

  • I would like to record a conversation or have someone observe my conversation, because it is too difficult to think about language during task completion exercises.

    • That sounds a really good idea and perhaps give it a go? However, in a similar way to remember to practice, once you know this you will automatically become aware of the words as you use them. For example, you probably don’t notice many purple cars until you decide to buy one that colour and then they seem to be everywhere. Maybe not the case of purple cars, but you get the meaning?

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