You can learn something from everyone you meet, but you have to put some work into it.  My example below.

Two weeks ago I drove a long way into town to meet up with a speaking group that I thought might be a good resource for me. I had to pay for the meeting and lunch, and then drive a good 40 minutes out of my way to get there. I was really excited.

After showing up and joining in the networking introduction dance (which we all know can be downright painful, nerve-wracking, and scary as hell), I sat down at a table. I shared some small talk and then had a realization.

These were not my people.

They were all awesome people, doing amazing things, but they were not the group of people that I wanted to pay and drive all over town to interact with. Crap.

Each of us has been there before. You are in a group, meeting, or social setting and you think,

I do not want to be here and this is a total waste of my time.

And in those situations, we have three choices:

Hidden Teachers

  1. Stay and feel frustrated and trapped the whole time
  2. Leave and spend our time doing something else important
  3. Stay and seek out the Hidden Teachers

I chose to stay and seek to learn, and it ended up being a wise use of my time. After sitting down and observing, listening, and trying to connect how people and their information might contribute to my own life and work, I walked away with information about:  E-book publishers, treating MS with energy healing, 2 book references for online sales platforms, an alternative learning center for Jumping Bean, and how to avoid being condescending to new meeting members.

I chose to get something out of that meeting, and I did.

You have the same choice in every unappealing situation you find yourself in.

By just asking some questions of people and digging into your natural curiosity about who people are, what they are about – you get them to TALK. And people love to talk, especially about themselves and their stuff.  People also love to share information and knowledge with those that are interested.

It’s in our blood- we are social, collaborative animals, whether you want to believe it or not.

The problem is, most of the people that have information that can help us or or work are often hidden.  They are the “hidden teachers” that we have no idea even exist. They themselves don’t see themselves as teachers either, which adds another dynamic.  They just know a lot about something we don’t know much about, and by asking and probing more than you normally might, you learn so much new information. You walk away from an interaction having been “taught” something you never intended on learning.

And how can you use that information?  It might lead you to connect others, to look at something online, or just spark your brain in a way you had not anticipated.  USE IT.

If, however, asking questions of people that do not initially intrigue you is painful, difficult, or simply not something you’ve ever tried, here are some sample questions that might get the other person talking… so that you can learn:

  • “Wow, you really do _____?  That’s something I’ve never tried.  How did you get into doing that?”
  • “Where did you develop the skills to ____?  I’ve always been interested in that.” (You aren’t, but it’s ok.)
  • “What path led you to do your great work in ____?”
  • “You’ve ______ (written a book, started a company, had 7 kids, whatever) ?! That seems so impossible.  Was it difficult and what did you learn?”
  • “I’ve never been to this venue before- I don’t know this area at all. Are you familiar with some good places to eat or visit around here?”
  • “You mentioned you used to live in _____? My family and I are vacationing there at the end of the year- any advice?”

The key is to look for links. As someone is talking, start to try and make links to subjects, areas, or expertises that connect to something you are interested in – personal or professional.  Once you start to see how something might link to you, simply ask a question that gets them talking on a subject that is closer to that link.  And keep going from there.

They are everywhere:  Hidden Teachers.  You have been one of them for someone else; thank you for sharing your knowledge and expertise.