colleagues talking

Learning from others

The ability to listen and learn from those around you is often viewed as an important indicator of career potential. Want to find out how you can best learn from others? Then read on…

Countless academic works tell us that learning is 20 per cent formal and 80 per cent informal. Informal learning is generally defined as the learning that takes place outside formal training and a large proportion of this comprises learning from others.

Recent years have also seen the rise of what’s called social learning, basically learning within a social context, which increasingly makes use of online networking and collaborative tools.

According to research conducted by business psychologists Pearn Kandola, which examined the journeys of a number of successful leaders, openness to new challenges and the use of a number of different mentors were identified as being a differentiator of future success.

“They more willingly turned to others for advice in order to learn from the experience,” says Stuart Duff, partner and head of development at Pearn Kandola.

“Talking and listening to others can provide a much greater sense of perspective on our own situation as well as giving us more choices about what to do in the future.”

Prepare yourself psychologically

Individuals need to make sure they are receptive to the idea of learning from those around them and this means getting in to the right frame of mind. Duff points out that what often inhibits the process of learning from others is an inherent desire to prove that we are right and that what we have chosen is the best option.

“Learning is by its very nature an acceptance that we are not the finished article and this willingness to consider alternatives and to try something more than once is at the heart of learning,” he explains. “So, when you’re seeking to learn from others, push the reasons why you did something to one side. Be inquisitive about the alternative choices.”

Follow role models

There is likely to be a wealth of people you can learn from when you first enter the world of work but it is important to identify those who have the skills, expertise and knowledge that will help you in your immediate as well as longer term career.

As an engineer, don’t just look for technical expertise but also general management skills as these will broaden your skills base. Consider how colleagues and peers deal with conflict, problem solving, negotiation and the general management of people.

As well as skills, look at what characteristics and personal attributes these people have that make them successful/excel in their roles. Having identified those who have the most to offer you, find out if the organisation operates a structured mentoring programme. If not, it may be that you can come to a more informal arrangement with the individuals concerned.

Feedback can be a powerful tool

One of the most important aspects of learning from others is eliciting and then acting on feedback. But Duff cautions against “half listening” to others, which he says can be one of the biggest mistakes in a work environment where it can be easy to go through the motions of asking for feedback from colleagues without actually wanting to hear what you’re being told.

“Effective learners not only listen openly to others’ views but actively seek to use the feedback in developing new strategies for the future. At the other end of the spectrum, another common error is to make snap judgments based on the advice of a single person.

“Learning is also about consideration and reflection, not over-reacting and bouncing from situation to another, making similar mistakes,” he adds.

Evaluate your progress

Feedback is also one of the ways that you can measure if the learning is having a positive impact on your performance so “just ask them”, says Duff.

“Colleagues and friends can be very astute and insightful in evaluating the way that we are behaving, or at least giving us an insight into the impact of the behaviour.”

Duff adds that you should also use your own personal judgement to gauge how you are progressing.

“Try using scales of 1-10 to rate where you feel you are before learning and then afterwards. Is there a difference? Is it a positive improvement?”

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