Following a winding path through various links and blogs, I came across the post by Seth Godin on June 5, entitled When smart people are hard to understand.
Mr. Godin mentions two strategies for handling the situation of hearing a “smart person in your industry” use a term with which you are unfamiliar. The first is to ask. “Wait, I was with you until a second ago. What does that mean?” The second is to write down the term and then later that evening research it, not giving up (or going to bed) until you completely understand it.
Every industry has its buzzwords, special jargon, tools of the trade. Since I am in the “education industry” that is the jargon with which I usually am faced. Which strategy do I employ?
I feel each has its place, and the determining factor for me is the setting. If I am in a one-on-one conversation with a colleague, and an unfamiliar term or acronym or Web 2.0 tool comes up, I have no qualms about using strategy one. I am not putting my lack of knowledge out there for the world to see (hence I am only uninformed in front of one person). In a larger group such as a conference session or workshop, I am guilty of feigning understanding at the moment as I make either written or mental notes to find out later what the heck they are talking about. It is my “afraid of looking dumb” position, but also I feel that if the majority of the group understands and I do not, far be it from me to drag down the conversation and take up the group’s valuable time. Of course, there is always a sigh of relief when some other bolder person asks aloud what I was asking mentally. (Thank you brave person!)
I would like to think of those colleagues using the terms I don’t know as more experienced, rather than call them smarter than myself. I assume that is really what Mr. Godin meant. I am finding more and more opportunities for personal learning these days, and so many people who are willing to do the explaining. But one of the things we hope to instill in our students is the 1)the desire to keep learning and 2) the strategies for how to go about it. Okay, that’s two things. Do we give them enough opportunity to ask questions without feeling that that they are not one of the “smart ones”? Are the students most in need of asking the questions the ones who are the most worried about looking foolish? The chances they are making mental or written notes of what they want to look up later are rather slim. Maybe I need to be more open and encouraging in that regard, and not take that head nod to mean, “yes, I get it”.