My first year teaching in S. Korea was challenging in several ways. Not only did I have to adapt to a new culture and language environment, but I also had to adapt to a new student population. I had previously taught college-age international students in my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, but that first year in Korea I found myself teaching classes to elementary school students.
On top of that, for most of my classes, the mothers of my students sat along the walls of the classroom observing the class. I did the best I could to deliver lessons that were full of content and language practice, but in the end students started leaving my classes because they were bored. In fact, my first teaching contract was not renewed for a second year, primarily because I failed to connect with my students.
As a young and fairly inexperienced teacher, my focus was on the content of my lessons. However, I needed to understand the specific needs and wants of the individual students in my class. For my elementary students, this was their need to have fun and play as well as learn English. By the time I moved to my third teaching position in Korea, working with mid-level managers in an international corporation, I finally began to understand the needs of my students well enough to connect with them in ways that led to their success and mine.
Until I learned to take the students’ perspectives into consideration, I was unable to connect with my students in ways that encouraged them to engage in the lessons I prepared. In their book Real Influence, John Ullmen and Mark Goulston identify a primary cause of disconnection as the “blind spot” in our brains. Because we naturally approach any issue from our own perspective, we fail to consider other perspectives, which creates a mental “blind spot.” They further describe four traps most people fall into when it comes to connecting and influencing others:
- the fight or flight response – “your nervous system … doesn’t know the difference between a Tyrannosaurus Rex and an tyrannical boss” leading you to either respond aggressively (fight) or avoid the situation (flight)
- the habit handicap – when stressed or challenged, we resort to our “comfort zone” of behaviors that have worked in the past, but which may not be best in the current circumstances
- error blindness – being wrong feels just like being right, and it isn’t until we realize our error that we can correct it
- the double curse of knowledge – even when you are right, you may find it difficult to explain what you find obvious to a less knowledgeable person.
I think I experienced all four when I moved to Korea!
Through trial and error I eventually learned how to connect with my students. However, I now recognize that John Maxwell has summed up these strategies of how to connect with others in his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership:
- Connect with yourself – know who you are and be confident in your skills and abilities
- Know your audience – learn the goals, hopes, and dreams of the people you are working with
- Go to where they are – meet people in their circumstances, or as Ullmen and Goulston say, in “their there”
- Communicate with openness and sincerity – being transparent is essential to creating a connection
- Offer direction and hope – present the positive and optimistic view; there are enough negative voices in the world
- Live your message – practice what you preach and you can build credibility
- Focus on them, not yourself – show people you care about them and their circumstances
- Believe in them – encourage and support people, even at their lowest.
Many of the Old Testament prophets failed to connect with the people of Israel and Judah, in part due to the nature of their messages of repentance, messages the people simply weren’t interested in hearing. However, a notable exception is Daniel who practiced connected influence as an advisor to the kings of Babylon and Persia.
- Connect with yourself – Daniel had such a clear view of himself that he asked for an exception when given “the king’s delicacies” (Daniel 1:5, 8-16).
- Know your audience – when Daniel first approached the chief eunuch about his diet, he demonstrated a concern for the man’s predicament (Daniel 1:8-10).
- Go to where they are – Daniel suggested a 10-day trial of a vegetable diet to limit the risk to the chief eunuch (Daniel 1:12).
- Communicate with openness and sincerity – when Daniel came before Nebuchadnezzar to interpret his dream, he was clear that he didn’t have the interpretation because he was wiser than any other but because God had revealed it to him (Daniel 2:27-30).
- Offer direction and hope – when Daniel gave a negative interpretation for one of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams, he also gave counsel for how the king could avoid the coming personal disaster (Daniel 4:19-27).
- Live your message – when the lower government officials tried to discredit Daniel, they couldn’t find any opening to accuse him of wrongdoing (Daniel 6:4).
- Focus on them, not yourself – Daniel humbly served those set above him as well as those under his authority (Daniel 1:8-13; 2:14-18, 24-30, 49; 4:19, 27; 5:17; 6:1-3).
- Believe in them – Daniel consistently encouraged the best in the kings he served (Daniel 2:37-38; 4:19, 27; 6:21)
Connecting with others is an important step towards developing a sphere of influence. Daniel exerted a gentle influence upon the pagan kings of Babylon and Persia by connecting with the rulers of those countries. We, too, can exert a similar influence upon those in our sphere of influence if we follow his example and truly begin to connect with those around us.
Resources and Links
Interview with John C. Maxwell on the 700 Club talking about the Laws of Leadership
Communication Fundamentals course on Lynda.com, taught by John Ullmen
Website for Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In
Series of blog posts by Mark Goulston and John Ullmen based on the concepts in Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In
Sunday message by Pastor Jeff Abyad on the life of Daniel: Thriving in Captivity