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  • Writer's pictureJack McDevitt

Blog #84

One of the news channels last week ran a story about a teacher who was trying to convince her students that they were talented. She had them talking to a mirror, telling their image how smart they were. She has the right idea, and maybe the method might work. The critical point is that most of us underrate our abilities. Learn to believe in yourself, as the old saying goes, and you can do almost anything.

During my teaching years, a couple of psychologists worked on a research project. They visited schools, got permission to talk to a teacher, and told him that he had three students with extremely high intelligence. (They were chosen at random.) “Just so you know,” they said. “But don’t say anything to them about it. We just want you to note whether they perform at a higher level than normal.”

Inevitably they did. The teachers couldn’t help changing their behavior toward the three students, although they insisted they hadn’t, and probably weren’t aware that they had. But the kids picked it up. It affected them.

Telling people outright that they’re exceptionally smart hasn’t been known to work. Probably because they won’t believe it. Nevertheless we can provide some fuel. To start, we might stay away from the negativity. We are inclined to show those to whom we have leadership responsibilities where they’ve gone wrong. Teachers circle all the mistakes. Maybe instead they should circle the segments that are well written. “That’s good, Janet. Give me more like that.”

Parents punish kids for creating problems. A better approach might be, when they perform well, to deliver a reward. Or at least mention what they’ve accomplished, and do it with a smile. If you’re a leader in a corporation or a police unit or the military you may find yourself doing written evaluations. We are inclined to point out the mistakes subordinates make. A better idea might be to concentrate on areas where they excel.

It works. As long as we keep it honest. Look for the good stuff.

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