Talking to Solve Problems

I’m co-facilitating a course for faculty at the university with my amazing friend and colleague Aditi Garg. Recently the faculty members need to get feedback from one of the other participants on an activity they’d been working on related to their teaching specifically. Instead of just sharing their papers and writing feedback on them, I had them verbally summarize what they’re doing to a partner. The partner then interviewed them about it with a set of questions I provided them, and write down notes for their partner, ask any follow-up questions, or share ideas of their own where the faculty member might be stuck.

I listened to them interview each other and share ideas, and while I thought it might be a good way of doing this, I hadn’t expected just how engaged and even excited they were with their conversations. They came into the room that day with a few sentences of an idea and most of them seem to leave with so much more.

I’m somebody who likes to talk through problems. I have a lot of experience asking questions as a journalist, an educator, and now a podcaster. Asking questions is something I’ve always found useful to not only get answers from others, but for me to develop answers to the questions I pose about a situation.

But I don’t do this in isolation and I don’t always do it with the same people. The faculty members in the course come from several different departments across the university and most of them didn’t know each other before we started. These interviews and the resulting conversations came with different perspectives than they would normally encounter. The most animated and, I think productive conversation was between a business instructor and an instructor in Horticulture.

Talking through a problem with another person or a very small group of people (you want to avoid the potential for herd mentality that many, including Steven Johnson in his book Where Good Ideas Come From have written about) can help to take steps to solve it, or at least better define it. You may have the answers tucked deep into your brain, waiting to fully form, or someone(s) may have the solution or the pieces to combine with yours to find the answer.

Featured image courtesy of Daniel X. O’Neil under a CC-BY license.

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