Sometimes People Don't Want to Learn

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You can’t teach someone who doesn’t want to learn.

It is true. Perhaps you’ve tried. I’ve been worn out trying to teach principles I know someone needs to learn…everyone can see they need them…but they seem to ignore them. They keep making the same mistakes. They never seem to catch on. They never seem to learn. It doesn’t even seem they want to. Many times it’s because they don’t.

It can be frustrating, but sometimes the person who doesn’t want to learn is me. Sometimes it’s you.

It’s not only in leadership. It’s true with all of life. Some people simply don’t want to learn. They aren’t teachable at the moment.

I’ve discovered that the reasons someone isn’t willing to learn may not always be the same. The reason may not always be what we think it is. In fact, there may be several reasons.

Here are 4 reasons people may not want to learn:

They don’t think they need to learn anything – This is the one that frustrates us the most, and it’s the one we accuse people of the most. It’s true, arrogance is common in leadership, but also among those who need to be led. Many leaders feel they are in a position because they are the only ones who could do the job. Everyone around them may know that’s not true, but they can’t see it. They don’t care to learn from others, because they aren’t willing to admit or see they have anything to learn. Sometimes those who still have much to learn are too proud to admit it.

They don’t know they need to learn anything – It may sound similar, but this is a different reason. It isn’t arrogance than causes this one, but rather ignorance. We’ve all been there at times. Many times I’ve assumed I had the answers already. It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested in learning more . . . I just didn’t know there was more to learn. I’ve said before, the older I get the more I realize I don’t know yet. Some of that comes with maturity and age. Some of it comes with experience. But, many times we don’t think we need to know anything new, because we don’t see enough problem with what we already know.

They don’t want to learn from you – This is a hard one for leaders to accept, but it’s actually quite common. It could be a relational issue or a positional issue. It might simply be a personality clash, but for whatever reason, it keeps them from desiring to learn from you. As a parent, there were seasons when my boys learned more from others than they did from me. I welcomed that and was appreciative of those who spoke into their life. This has been true also when someone was supposed to be leading me, but I knew more about a subject. It takes a very humble person to learn from those you’re supposed to be leading. I’ve had times when someone on my team hears the same thing at a conference I’d been saying for months. It sticks coming from someone new. Don’t be offended if they aren’t always listening to you, but make sure they are listening to someone.

They want to learn on their own – There’s nothing wrong with this, as long as they remain teachable. In fact, it should be encouraged at times. Some of the best lessons in life come from trying something and succeeding or failing. If they aren’t being arrogant, give them the freedom to explore independent of you. It will help you, them and the organization.

But, regardless of the reason….

You can’t teach someone who doesn’t want to learn.

That’s why the best leaders I know . . . the best teachers . . . the best parents . . .

Spend as much time motivating the learner as they do teaching them.

In the book Switch, authors Dan and Chip Heath call it “motivating the elephant”. Your job as a leader, if you desire people to want to learn from you, or even from others, is to motivate them to want to learn.

How do you do that?

If you want people to listen to you:

Here are 5 suggestions:

Value the person – No one follows someone willingly who they don’t believe cares for them. Zig Ziglar’s famous line “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is true. Don’t expect people to want to learn from you until they know you have their best interest at stake and that you care for them personally; not simply what they can do for you or the organization.

Paint a great vision – You have to give people something worth following. It needs to stretch them, while still being attainable by risk, faith and hard work. When they know there’s a glimmer of hope to the finish line, they’ll be more willing to learn what it takes to attain it.

Communicate it frequently – Even the best vision fades over time. People get bored. Andy Stanley uses the phrase “vision leaks”. If you want to maintain your audience of followers, you have to keep reminding them why you are doing what you are doing.

Tell compelling stories – People are motivated by example. They want to know that what they are doing makes a difference. People will be more likely to seek your input if they know you are leading them to something of value and importance.

Share in the reward – People only feel valued when they get to celebrate the victory. If all the recognition goes to the leader, the follower feels taken advantage of to some degree. If you want people to keep listening…listen to them…share the credit…celebrate often.

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