Looking For The Strangeness

By Chris Chittenden

As human beings, we have a tendency to congregate with others who are similar to us. It gives us a sense of comfort and certainty about life. However by surrounding ourselves with sameness, we tend to lose sight of the diversity in the world and often begin to believe that our way of seeing things is the right and only way. After all, if we hang out with like-minded people there is very little opinion to the contrary.

This is very relevant to working with a Mentor or a Coach. We engage both to help us learn, but they offer us different learning opportunities. We define a Mentor as someone who works in the same domain as the person who seeks learning but has significantly more experience and knowledge. Engaging a Mentor provides the learner with a sense of how to grow based on how the Mentor grew and what they have learnt about being successful in their chosen career. This provides valuable learning and reduces the need to "reinvent the wheel" through access to the Mentor's experience. However, Mentors tend to have a similar world view to their "mentees".

Coaches on the other hand may come from a vastly different background. Indeed, they may not have any experience in the area of work in which the "coachee" is engaged. Coaches look at an individual from the perspective of how that person is limiting themselves from achieving what they want in life, help them to recognise those limitations and then work with them to overcome them. Working with a Coach can often be very challenging for people because the Coach can provide a very different view of the world to those they coach. As a result, there is an opportunity for a vastly different learning experience.

Our tendency to sameness and familiarity does not just apply to how we learn directly, it also applies to how we relate with others. As human beings, we often find that we dislike someone for no particular reason and, as a result, have very little to do with them. When we explore what is behind this, we often find that they view the world in ways that are very different to us. As a result, we do not feel comfortable with them and do not have much of a sense of what to talk with them about and so avoid them.

When we truly listen to someone with a completely different view of the world, we often find that we still have a lot in common but there is much that we can learn. Try it. Spend time with someone who seems to be very different to you. Listen to them, get to know them and how they think and you just might come away with some insights into your life that you had not seen before.

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© 2001 Chris Chittenden