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​You Don't Know as Much as You Think You Know

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Let me tell you a story from my high school days.

I was sitting in my sophomore Geography class, bored out of my skull. A lecture was going on about Outer Slapmanistan or Middle Rastifribeanne or Northern Kendakota or some other obscure location I couldn’t have cared less about. I leaned back to my buddy and whispered, “Nice shoes.”

At least, I thought I was whispering, because what followed was an eruption from the front of the classroom. “You! Stand up!” After some confusion as to exactly who “you” was, I stood and was directed to the back of the room.

Trust me, I was quiet for the rest of the class.

The bell rang and the teacher came back to talk with me. He led with what he assumed would be his knockout punch. “What did you get on the last test?” Aha, proof that he really didn’t know his students. I responded, “An ‘A.’”

Nonplussed, he came up with his next best attack. It was premised upon the fact that my buddy had only gotten a “C” and that, even if I was doing well, others were not. Therefore, my disruptions of his class were not helping any of them.

I walked away knowing I had won that battle. He thought he was coming in with a zinger and I had effectively blocked it. I saw his half-hearted secondary attack for exactly what it was — a mere ploy to try and save some face.

Ah, the smugness of a teenager.

Years later, I now find myself to be the one standing at the front of the room trying to pass on what passes for knowledge to a room full of auditors. And, many, many, many years later, I finally figured out and fully understand what that teacher was trying to tell me.

Over my years of training, speaking, and facilitating, I’ve had lots of experiences where certain individuals in the room were convinced they already knew everything there was to know regarding the presentation. It happened when I was in charge of training for Farmers Insurance, it has happened with clients, and it has happened with IIA-sponsored courses. In many instances, having these individuals in the room is actually a good thing because they approach it with a positive attitude, willing to bring their experience into the conversation, and broaden the learning of others in the room (including me).

But very often, these individuals completely check out or, even worse, are openly disdainful about the perceived rudimentary content of the presentation.

You want to be disdainful of me, I can live with that. But never be disdainful about the transfer of knowledge — no matter how much you think you already know. Because there are people sitting in that classroom/conference room/meeting room for whom the material is new. And they are there to learn, even if you aren’t.

Respect the learners, even if you have decided not to learn.

But, perhaps more importantly, another reason to keep engaged is that it never hurts any of us to refresh the most fundamental of concepts — to make sure we understand and apply them correctly.

For example, we all know what a risk is, right? However, when I actually quiz people about what is and isn’t an actual risk, I find that half of them do not understand the concept that a risk is not the opposite of an objective.

That is truly fundamental. And that is a concept that, even if I think I already know it, I better make sure I know it correctly. And yet we (and I fall in this trap, too) sit in a class or seminar or conference thinking we already know everything the speaker has to say — tuned out to the speaker’s voice and tuned into our emails, our smart phones, that game we downloaded during the last presentation we basically ignored, or even the floral patterns on the conference room walls.

If nothing else, consider every training opportunity, no matter how rudimentary, as an opportunity to practice your active listening skills. Good auditors — the talented auditors — have the ability to listen closely to the client, even if they have heard a description of the process 15 times before. Of course, it is the polite thing to do. But more importantly, you never know when a new nugget of information is going to be dropped in your lap.

And that is just as true regarding any training session you have attended. No matter how basic, no matter how fundamental, there is a more than decent chance that an undiscovered nugget will fall into your lap.

No matter what the training session, no matter what the content, no matter how versed in it you may already be, remember two things. One, there are people there who are still learning. Two, you may not know as much as you think you know.

Even if you’ve already gotten you’re “A,” there are still a lot people struggling with their “C.” (And would it hurt you to try for an “A+”?)​​

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