Inverse Mentor

Dear J-

I’ve figured out that the number of times I have to explain something is inversely proportional to the quality and tone of my instruction.  If it’s the first time, I’m like a vampire feeding off your excitement at learning something new.  If it is, say, the third time today, then you’d better be prepared for terse instructions and a decided lack of attention.  theVet says that I have a terrible temper when it comes to patience; the more often I explain something the less interesting it is, and the more I’ll begin to question your ability to learn.

At our semi-special mentor class, though, we were told that people learn one of three different ways; you’ve got the folks who won’t touch a knob, switch, or button without indexing and adding tabs to the dog-eared manual they’ve slept on (reverse osmosis!); then you’ve got the ones who’ll ask other people about their hands-on experience, how to do this that way, how to avoid those traps, how to find the tricks you’ve picked up; finally, there’s the people who can’t wait to wade in and get their hands dirty on it, preferring direct experience to instructions, and making your own mistakes to hearing about someone else’s.  We took a little questionnaire to determine which type we were; if I remember right, out of twenty questions I was divided pretty equally — seven, seven, and six.

But the point is not what you are, the point is recognizing what the people you teach are.  It’s one thing in school, where a limited resource (teachers) forces everyone into learning through one mode at a time; at work, you can always go to someone else, or teach yourself via help functions, or muddle through on your own, if you can.  And people who’ve worked as long as my coworkers have, well, they tend to fall back into comfortable habits; my mistake, I think, is in presenting the information in a limited way.  It may work for some, but it doesn’t work for everyone, and patience is always a virtue.

Mike

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