The other day I came across an informal study that tested the impact of ageism. The experiment had two teachers teach a lesson on the same topic, to see which one the students would pick. One young, one old. The old one was super qualified and taught the class without much interaction. The young teacher was not as experienced, and his style relied on group discussions.
As it turns out, the students chose the younger teacher to be their substitute. The comment that caught my attention was: “Even though the older teacher knows more, I’d learn more from the younger teacher.”
I don’t mean to dismiss ageism, but my biggest takeaway was knowing your audience. How many times have you found yourself in a situation where you had the right information and for whatever reason couldn’t convey it?
In most cases it’s not so much about authority (represented by the older teacher), so much as the ability to relate (represented by the younger teacher).
Boy, it’s tough for me, because I grew up so focused on knowledge and being right that I underinvested in my ability to communicate it effectively.
Going forward, I’m going to focus more on stories. Last Friday I was giving a talk on love, and I was astounded how significantly better the eye contact got whenever I was telling a story. I mean people were leaning in!
I will also encourage group sharing. If my stories have proven to be such a powerful communication tool, how much more powerfully my message would resonate if it got reinforced by other people’s experiences. Much like the rope’s strength is directly proportional to the quality of its fibers, so is the message that weaves through multiple points of view.
When are your words not coming across? What could you do differently to be able to better relate to your audience?
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