Be a learner, not a knower

I started the Courageworks Living Brave semester in January, along with 1300 other people. It's a self-study course with monthly live Q&A facilitated by Brene Brown. A few weeks ago, moving at my own pace, I began Lesson #4, "The Arena". For those who are unfamiliar, the arena is that big area in our life where we want to show up and be seen (the dating world, our relationship with our intimate partner, our small business, etc). My arena may have the same name as yours but our experiences in that arena can be very different. Something Brene said in the first video of Lesson #4 has stayed with me, "we don't know what other people's arenas look like so be a learner, not a knower about others' experiences.". 

Try it on for size.

Try it on for size.

Imagine you see eight clients per day. They all have similar qualities so it's tempting to be a knower and use your position of power to "help" them. But instead one of the best ways that you can serve those clients is to be a learner. What does that mean? In my mind, being a learner is being curious about someone. It means you put on an empathy / advocate hat instead your usual sympathy / authority hat. Being curious about someone not only gives power and choice back to the person in front of you but also allows her experiences to be validated, even if you haven't experienced them yourself.

It's tempting as professionals to keep the knower hat that we've always worn firmly planted on our head. That hat holds experience, training, professional standards, education. It's easy to keep wearing it. And it's simultaneously safe and also dangerous for those exact same reasons. Because playing it safe is actually pretty risky. Seth Godin talked about that here 10+ years ago using a business marketing lens but the same principles apply here. It's not enough to be a good at what you do and use that knowledge. That's your knower hat. You've got that down. But you also need to be a learner too, to be curious about your clients. When you are a learner, you take a risk and stand out. You create a relationship where people feel valued instead of commodified. And when there is a relationship like that, there is trust, repeat clients and recommendations. All because you opted for a learner hat instead of your knower one. 

Being a learner instead of a knower holds true for any non-professional interactions we have with others. We can always opt to walk in someone else's shoes and be a learner, no matter where we find ourselves. It's easy to sit back and solve people's problems for them; it's much harder to be present with them when they work it out themselves. That's what learners do. Who are you?