6 Tips to Doing Learning Well

Growing our point of view and our inclusive behaviors is a process. Sometimes there are ‘aha!’ moments that help to move us forward in our understanding quickly—and sometimes the path is more wandering and takes time. Additionally, we can be at different stages of the point of view development process for the many different aspects of identity that exist. Someone may be quite savvy in understanding gender and how one’s gender identity will impact how they experience and move through the world; however, this same person may know very little about ability and how people with various abilities and disabilities experience the world.

If we desire to be people who are inclusive leaders, teammates, and general human beings, we have to be intentional about taking that next step along what we at Greatheart call the 5 Stages of Transformation. The 5 Stages see transformation as dramatic growth in an individual (or group). Each stage offers a new level of learning about how to lead thoughtfully and intentionally with many aspects of identity in view. They move from a space of inward reflection (Pre-Awareness, Interest & Necessity) toward a space of outward engagement and influence (Activated, Influencing). In-between is a stage anyone who has ever worked with youth will recognize: a time of (sometimes) awkward trial and error as we learn how to live out our new learnings (Careful Practice).

Moving through these stages of transformation requires seeking out resources for learning.

These days, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) are becoming more common topics within the world and workplace. This means, for those who want to continue their learning there are many more resources now than there used to be on various topics, and from a wide range of identity points. The next post will highlight some of my favorite resource portals. But before anyone dives into learning, there are a few things to keep in mind:

Own your learning.

There are an abundance of resources for various identity points if you have a genuine interest in finding them. Don’t expect another person to be your teacher. It’s not their responsibility to teach you why they matter, or convince you that their experiences are real. From time to time—most likely in true friendships developed over time and built on trust, or in paid organized settings (see below)—you will have someone who will share and teach from their experience. Value these moments, but never expect another person to assume this position for you. Go out and find the resources yourself. It’s amazing what google can help find.

The cost of expertise.

You’ll get excited about the learning you are doing and you may want your workplace to engage in these topics more. Organizations will put money towards lots of things—unfortunately, Diversity Equity & Inclusion is rarely one of them. DE&I too often becomes the nonprofit sector of an organization—the thing employees and speakers should volunteer to be a part of. You may be tempted to ask people who are seen as subject matter experts in the field (bloggers, authors, podcasters, speakers) to speak for free, after all, it’s for a good cause (and they can market their product). Don’t. Offer to pay them for their time, just like you would any other expert you bring in on any other subject.

Develop new muscles.

Seek learning in areas where you are less confident. This seems obvious. If we’re seeking learning aren’t we supposed to be looking for things we don’t know? However—especially for those of us who work within the DE&I sphere on a daily basis—it can be very easy to read article after article about things we already know.

As a woman, it’s more comfortable for me to gobble down articles on women in the workplace, the #MeToo movement, the gender-pay gap, etc. These types of articles not only help me feel that I’m not alone in my experiences, but they can also help me process and give words to my experiences.

While this kind of learning still moves me forward in my development—it’s more like strengthening a muscle rather than developing a new muscle. Developing new muscles is important because new muscles are the ones that increase my ability to be an ally to others who are different from me.

As a white person, I could be learning from the voices and experiences of those from racial and/or ethnic backgrounds different from my own. As a person who is heterosexual I could be learning from the voices and experiences of those in the LGBTQ community. As someone who is temporarily able-bodied I could be learning from the voices of those from the disability community. This learning helps me to grow new muscles and support those who I didn’t have the understanding to support well before.

Start by understanding the complexity of voices rather than looking for the 'right' voice.

One thing that is hard about learning outside our own experience is that (surprise!) no group of people is the same. As we venture out of our own experiences we’ll find many voices and not all of them will agree. We will want to know who is ‘right’ and the important thing is that we don’t need to know. Yes, you will want to know. You will be tempted to take sides on various topics. Instead, focus on understanding the variety of voices within a group, rather than trying to put everyone from a group into the same box.

As an example: I recently came across this thought-provoking article on identity-first versus people-first language. It really shook up my way of thinking. For a long time I had thought I knew the “right” way to talk about disability. Since I had very limited learning within this sphere I knew only what the few voices I had listened to said—and then I incorrectly applied that opinion to an entire group. This is one of many reminders that not everyone inside a community thinks and speaks the same way. I was reminded once again: the best way to know how to talk about any person’s identity is to ask them!

Get the inside scoop.

Once you start looking you’ll begin to realize how many different voices there are across various aspects of identity. Some people have done a lot of learning within spaces that are outside of their experience and then written, or talked, or podcasted about it. They may have very good things to say. They may have done a good job of learning from those within the community. They may not be intending to colonizing the space. But, no matter how much they learn, they will never have the same perspective as someone who is from that group.

Your search for learning is a chance to support “local” voices—the ones that are too often overlooked, not given the book deals, the venture capitalist funding, the platform etc.(They are also too often asked to do their speaking for free—rather than paid for their expertise, see point 2: The Cost of Expertise).

Do some digging and seek to learn from people who are a part of the community about which they are speaking. If you are seeking to know more about Gender Identity do your best to find authors who are non-binary, genderqueer, etc. Don’t go straight to the cisgender, heterosexual, male author who happens to have a New York Times bestseller.

Remember the ORCA.

Not the actual orca, although it’s probably good to remember them as well since they’re having a rough go of it. Keep in mind the ORCA Model: Openness, Respect, Curiosity, and Accountability.

  • Openness: Receive what others give and have to say

  • Respect: Recognize each person’s unique value, and honor them with candor and appreciation

  • Curiosity: Learn about another’s experience without judgment

  • Accountability: Be aware of power dynamics in the relationship and attend to gaps between your intentions and your impact—especially across difference

Keeping the four ORCA values in mind will help you to approach learning from a position of humility and curiosity—and will take steps towards honoring and empowering people to name themselves and the ways in which they are like no other, like some others, and like all others.

Bonus tip: Application

In his article “Recasting Leadership Development” (2010), Morgan McCall says “to the extent that leadership is learned, it is learned through experience”. I think this is true for most things. We really cement in our learning when we put it into practice. Don’t stop at simply gathering information—make sure you’re practicing what you are learning. What are the new behaviors your learning asks you to develop? What are the new conversations your learning pushes you to engage in? This is how we truly nudge ourselves towards the Influencing side of the 5 Stages of Transformation—where we start sharing our power and using our influence to ensure that spaces are inclusive for all people.

What tips do you have for doing learning well?

Next time I’ll share my favorite sources of Learning. Stay posted!