Talking and Listening for Brainpower
The following tips are about the power of talking and listening.
Both can help one learn more and to use one's brain more effectively.
It is perhaps obvious that we can learn from listening, as we
do from the start with parents and later with teachers in school.
But the tips below have to do with listening not as an academic
activity, but as a part of life after school. As we age we often
stop listening to others very well, and instead just argue or
Talking is an activity that I have recommended before in the
Brainpower Newsletter. Specifically I have suggested that in
the process of explaining ideas we can understand and develop
them better. Talking is not just a way to communicate with others,
but also a way of thinking. There has been some research that
demonstrates the power of talking as a way to boost brainpower,
and we'll start with that.
Talk to Think Better
Dr. Jay Roberts, from Earlham College, wrote an article for
the Association for Experiential Education (since removed from
online pulication). To summarize part of what he reported, there
was a research study done which was titled, "Why Peer Discussion
Improves Student Performance on In-Class Concept Questions."
Students were asked to answer a conceptual question using a clicker
to select their answer, and then they discussed their answer
with another student and answered again after this discussion.
It probably did not surprise the researchers that the second
answer was correct more often than the first.
Of course, the student next to each student -- the one they
discussed their answers with -- could be smarter, and that this
might be the reason for better answers. So the researchers asked
a second question, which was related to the first conceptually,
and which was answered individually (they refer to this similar
question as "isomorphic"). The correct answer of the
first question had not been revealed.
What they discovered was that talking to one's peers enhanced
understanding. This was true even when none of the students in
the discussion group originally got the answer correct. The result
was beyond any variation that might come from random guessing.
The bottom line is that talking improved thinking. It suggests
that just listening to a teacher might not be as effective as
stopping to discuss what they are learning. I would say it provides
evidence for my idea that to talk is to think.
As my regular readers know, I have said more than once that
you learn more by listening to what others have to say than by
expressing your own opinions. However, we're not all naturally
good listeners, so it helps to practice. Here are a few tricks
to pay better attention when listening to others.
=> Don't think about what you are going to say next. This
is a tough one, but we often are so busy trying to formulate
what will next come out of our mouths that we are not really
listening. Stop the process as soon as it starts and just listen
to the person. Your response will probably be better if you actually
know what was said, after all, and again, you don't usually learn
that much from repeating what you already know anyhow.
=> Hold your questions for a moment. We sometimes are afraid
that we'll forget what we want to ask, so we interrupt the speaker.
The process of looking for the right moment to interrupt prevents
us from fully paying attention. Instead, just let go of the questions
in your mind while you listen, and trust that they will arise
naturally when the right moment arrives.
=> Notice your own reactions to a person. When you meet
someone new, consciously identify your impressions and assumptions
about him or her. If you feel like they are mean or silly, admit
that to yourself. If their clothing or mannerisms make them seem
strange, note this potential reason for bias. This simple process,
which was suggested by one of my Brainpower Newsletter subscribers,
helps clear your mind and makes you more attentive and objective.
Now, you might wonder at the pairing of these two approaches.
First I say to talk is to think and then it seems I'm saying
"shut up and listen!" Well, that's about right. There
are times to talk, like when you are learning and exploring ideas.
But then, when talking will be nothing more than repeating what
you already know (or think you know), it is time to listen.