Don’t Get Snippy – Staying Receptive in Learning

I had an experience recently in a class where a friend who teaches dance (at a much higher level than I do) gave me a correction in form. It got my back up and I snipped back at him. The class wasn’t a form class, it was a class on teaching dance, and at that moment I was not in a headspace to be receiving critiques to my form. That being said the feedback was useful and I will be more mindful of this aspect of dance in future because of it. I wasn’t however happy with how I responded.

The moment got me thinking about the states that both impede and promote receptivity in myself and others.

Being Receptive

Receptivity necessitates a certain level of vulnerability. The greater the vulnerability the greater the potential to receive information. However also the greater the potential to receive hurt (which is not necessarily damage, it all depends on what you do with it). The safer you feel with someone or in a particular context the more vulnerable and thus receptive you can allow yourself to be.

With my friend there is a certain way that I do not feel ‘safe’ with him. This safety is not a safety of person but a safety of ego. I find upon self-reflection that I don’t trust him to be respectful of me. I don’t trust that he will acknowledge what I know and make a space for me as an instructor too. Because of this I feel ‘on guard’ and thus less at ease with being vulnerable and in turn less receptive.

The reality here for me is that my safety is not truly threatened nor does being snippy help create more safety, it simply shows my sensitivity and reduces my potential for learning.

The question here is how does someone in my situation create safety in order to allow for greater receptivity?

1. Clear the air / establish connection
I can create a greater level of connection and vulnerability directly with the person in question. The greater the overall sense of safety and respect in a relationship the more authentic and vulnerable the connection and thus greater room for receptivity. This can be accomplished through having real and authentic conversations about you relationship, setting ground rules for your communication, and modelling the behaviour you desire in return.

2. Create personal safety
Receiving feedback from someone does not actually give them any ability to injure you. It’s all in how you treat yourself. If you tend to take feedback in a negative way, you’re going to be more sensitive to situations where you are not prepared to receive feedback because you are essentially more prone to being hurt. The important thing is to recognize that the hurt is coming from the manner in which you are processing information (regardless of how harshly it might be delivered). Increasing your own sense of personal safety starts with promoting positive self-talk. I recommend positive affirmations that pertain to your most challenging situations, being sure to prepare yourself positively before entering places where you want to be receptive, and stopping negative self talk when you feel it creeping in.

A simple method of stopping negative self-talk: 1. STOP (say it or think it strongly). 2. Take a deep breath and centre your thinking. 3. Explicitly set the self-talk aside. 4. Return to a positive mantra or reframe the negative self-talk positively e.g. “I can’t do this.” can be reframed to “I am learning this.”

3. Explicitly choose receptivity
Like practicing positive self-talk, choosing to be receptive before learning situations or potential trigger situations can provide an explicit reminder and frame shift to being less critical and more at ease with receiving information. I find that it can be beneficial to explicitly put on a particular attitude like curiosity. When you feel your frame of mind slipping, explicitly open yourself to receptivity and practice active curiosity. Imagine that whatever is being presented is the most interesting thing you’ve ever heard, if it doesn’t seem so, perhaps you just don’t understand it yet. The nice thing with active curiosity is it still allows the information to be on the ‘outside’ of you instead of it having to be on the inside, where you may feel more vulnerable.

Happy learning everyone.