CUMMINGS: How do you learn?

May 5, 2013 

Good teachers know: “all children can learn, but each child learns differently.” Good leaders know this, too. Everybody in every organization needs information; everybody from the janitor to the vice president, needs to know:

• How we’re doing.

• Where we’re going.

• How we’re going to get there.

But very few know how to get this information across. Most bosses (and a couple of teachers, too, I’m afraid) think they can communicate the same way with everyone. “Just say it.” Or: “Just write it.” And they truly believe it’ll work.

I have two grandsons: Michael is an active extrovert; Austin is a quiet introvert. I know that each one listens to me when I’m talking, but Austin sits while Michael walks around. If I made Michael sit and listen, he would do it -- but he wouldn’t learn anything. How many companies understand this?

Very few companies realize that “each employee learns differently.” They learned differently as children in school; they learn differently now. Some will read the bulletin board; others won’t. Some will read their email; others never open it. Some will read the notice that’s tucked in with their paycheck; others throw that away immediately. And (you know this is true), some will listen intently at a staff meeting; others will sleep in a corner.

If you’re going to communicate, you’ll have to take the time to find out which communication “venue” works the best with “this person.”

Good communication takes time. We not only have to listen well, and that takes time, but we have to explain it in “just the right way” so the other person understands, and that takes even more time. We have to repeat it in all these different “ways of learning” until we find the right one.

Sounds tedious, doesn’t it? So why do it? Let me give you three good reasons. If you learn this lesson, you won’t have to repeat yourself over and over again. Results will happen -- the first time. You’ll grow another person.

First, we don’t save time or money by skipping the “right kind’ of explanation. You know that’s true with your kids. If you let your 16-year-old ADHD son drive your car without hands-on instructions, you’ll only have to do it later -- after you pay his speeding ticket.

It’s the same way at work. Always ask them to repeat what you’ve said. Don’t be in a hurry to get away. Stay with them until there are no more questions. Secondly, if you come home tonight and you know you’ve communicated the right way to the right person, you’ll be able to enjoy your family time. You won’t have to worry about Frank messing up, or Julie dropping the ball. You won’t be on the phone during dinner when you should be listening to your teenage son.

And thirdly, you’ll have the joy of knowing that you helped another person grow. Each of us carries around a Santa Claus sack full of wisdom and knowledge. We are unique in what we know. If we take the time each day to share that knowledge by carefully picking the right “venue” we can grow our children; we can grow our fellow employees; we can grow our customers. And most of all, we can grow ourselves.

The good communicator takes the time to find out how to communicate, because it’s just good business. Good teachers know this; so do real leaders. You can be a leader, too, if you want to.

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is

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