You have this co-worker. He’s that co-worker, the one who comes in every day (well, almost every day) and thinks he knows it all. He can’t figure out why he didn’t get that promotion because he thinks his work is “awesome." You try to teach him something to make his work better, but it’s no use. He just won’t listen. We all have co-workers like that.
But what if that co-worker is you?
I know what you’re thinking (“No, no, it’s not me!"), but that’s the problem with filtering our self-perception. You see only what you want to see. You create your own reality and because it seems real, it’s incredibly difficult to see the truth. The hard fact is that if you want to be successful in your work life, you have to look deep, face your flaws, and become a teachable employee.
What Does It Mean to Be a “Teachable Employee?"
Teachable employees approach every day, every situation, and every criticism as an opportunity to learn and grow. They take those lessons and use them to build their knowledge base, improve their decision-making, expand their emotional intelligence, and serve as a resource and collaborator for those around them.
Teachable employees are highly self-monitoring individuals. This means they are open to feedback and can easily adjust to changing situations. Employees who are not teachable, however, tend to resist criticism and change. Why is this critical to workplace success? Ask yourself this: If you’re the boss and you can either promote Bob, who listens and incorporates your feedback, adjusts easily, and constantly strives to better himself, or Larry, who … well … doesn’t do any of that, who are you going to choose?
Okay, Okay — How Do I Know I’m Teachable?
Start by asking someone whose opinion you trust and respect and, more importantly, will be honest with you. If he responds with criticism, take a moment to gauge your emotional response. Were you open to what he had to say, or did you get defensive? Did you accept his answer, or did you dismiss it as “wrong?" If you were defensive or dismissive, you probably aren’t as teachable as you could be.
It’s important to note: Even if you are teachable, you can always become more so. Some people are teachable by nature, but don’t learn as efficiently as possible. Maybe you don’t approach every situation as a learning experience, or you forget to incorporate what you learned. Follow these five steps to become more teachable:
1. Understand the components of a teachable personality: For this, you’re going to have to read a lot. Research the components of teachability, such as emotional intelligence, self-monitoring, selective perception, attribution errors, agreeableness, emotional stability, openness to experience, and locus of control. A great place to start is Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence, which describes the four emotional intelligence competencies — self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management — in detail.
2. Ask for feedback and listen: Many people use the excuse that they aren’t getting feedback as a reason not to change. That’s not going to help your boss, and, more importantly, it’s not going to help you. Buck up and ask for it. Ask your boss, your co-workers, and your friends, and then make sure you’re really listening. Start by asking people you know you can trust. Eventually, you can be freer in whom you ask, but you’ll have to filter out the feedback that isn’t constructive.
3. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses: Be honest with yourself when making a list of your strengths and weaknesses. Then, consider how you can develop your strengths and improve your weaknesses.
4. Take a personality test: There are a lot of personality tests out there that can help you determine where growth opportunities are. The Myers-Briggs test is the most popular, but it lumps you into an “either/or" category, i.e., you are either an extrovert or an introvert; there’s no in-between. The “Big Five" personality traits indicator is the second most popular and has the added benefit of being more subjective by placing people on a spectrum.
5. Test yourself: Every night, ask yourself a few questions that will remind you to be teachable and solidify the day’s lessons in your mind. Ask yourself if you were teachable today and what you learned. Consider those lessons and figure out how you can incorporate them into your daily life.
Finally, remember that improving isn’t about how bad you were, but about how good you can become. It allows you to extract all you can from life, move forward in a productive way, and avoid becoming that co-worker.
About the Author: John Boudreau is the COO and co-founder of Astonish Results, a digital marketing and consulting firm based in Rhode Island. He oversees the company growth and strives to achieve the mission and goals for Astonish.