Teaching Insights From A Fresh Perspective

This is a guest post from Bill McClendon, author of Deal Makers: Negotiating More Effectively Using Timeless Values.

An interesting thing happened on my way to teaching insights to college students. At first I focused on providing content and structure to my course on negotiation and professionalism. I wanted to demonstrate the dynamic tension between two competing forces. One force represented the ingrained, competitive mindset to win and win fast. The other force represented timeless values, particularly compassion, civility, and courage. I wanted the students to gain insights and recognize that timeless values create trust. But it was I who gained the greatest insight as I saw how this subject could prosper when taught without the traditional teaching methods of lecturing, questioning, outlining and testing. Instead I had to let go and create space for things to happen, for the students to react. I called on students to share their own thoughts, to raise their own questions, to tell their own stories, and thereby create their own insights from the assigned reading material and their experiences.

College Students, Books, Timeless Values

How did this approach stimulate creative thinking? What changed? Suddenly, these students brought sharply into focus many of today’s current events from all over the world. This included budget debates in congress, economic crisis in Greece and Portugal, riots in the Middle East, meltdowns in Japan, and drug wars in Mexico.

Previously, I had noticed that students were missing the point being explained, missing the insight to be gained. So I had them start writing reflection papers on the subjects. The old adage was certainly true: “Writing propels clear thinking.” And what’s more is I found that the shorter the better. At first students wrote two pages, then one and one-half pages, then one page. This was still toolong, so I changed it to one-half page. I would then underline one or two sentences to be read to the class and critiqued. What a dramatic result! Intensified focus linked with class discussion, released student insights from within. And these class comments also formed the very framework into which I inserted observations from the class text .

Many of these students in law, business and engineering were from other countries in Central and South America, Europe, the Middle East, India and China. Over the years it became apparent that these students had a unique message, a unique insight as to how the next generation from western and non-western cultures think.These students’ class comments were not arranged in any particular sequence but were delivered completely at random. One class we would start reading from the left side, the next from the right side. The top card from a shuffled deck of student cards indicated the student called on to summarize and critique what had just been read. This further increased student focus. At times, the class was a little unstructured. But this provided more space for the students to express themselves, and share their own perspectives from their own particular culture. I found it amazing how it all fit together, and formed a unified message which covered, much more effectively, the very same topics that I would have covered in a traditional lecture.

In the following examples, notice how the students first listened and observed carefully in order to frame the issue, how they understand what drives us individually and others to cooperate. Notice how they focus on the tensions that exist in our culture today,and grasp the equalizing force, the practical function, and the effectiveness of timeless values. These student comments are but a small taste of the many insights in the book Deal Makers: Negotiating More Effectively Using Timeless Valuesand provide analogous meanings that transcend cultural differences.

An MBA student from North Carolina wrote that the convictions we build for ourselves act as a lighthouse when we can’t see the shoreline. A business student raised in India wrote about how she was taught the values of peaceful co-existence, quality of sharing, respect for elders, and respect for objects like books. For this reason a dancer bows to the stage, a farmer to his yoke, and atruck driver to his truck. She concluded, “The significance of ‘OM’ or the absolute has made me understand that all of us belong to the same system.”A business student fromChina, commenting on thesubtleties of listening, wrote that pianolessons early in life taught herhow to develop a deeperunderstanding, in particular, ” to listen to whatis behind themusic…to hear the whisper behind the sound.” An engineering student from Germany perhaps summed it up best. Through interpreting different cultures, we discover that our core values are the same.”We did not have to ‘find’ timeless values to be able to negotiate–timeless values found us a long time ago”.

Instead of my trying to teach insights to students, they gained their own insights and taught me insights I’ll never forget.