Recently, I’ve heard a lot of people saying things like “They just don’t get it,” with a rather, fed-up, exasperated voice, like “There’s nothing you can do to help THOSE folks.  They’re Hopeless.”  I know we’ve also all said this, too, in different circumstances, when we can’t seem to make a connection or convince someone that we’re right.

Here’s the thing though.  You’re job is to make those connections and find another way, another path, another analogy or another channel to get the message through to those folks.

What if teachers showed up to first grade and tried to teach kids to read, but by some fluke, half the class did not magically learn to read the first day of school.  Would it be okay anywhere for that teacher to walk away from those kids, saying “they just don’t get it” and only teach the half of the class who already knew how to read when they walked in the door?  Of course not.  That teacher needs to find a way to break down the process of learning to read into smaller steps, smaller chunks.  They need to understand where the child is getting hung up in the process. They need to develop a plan that the teacher and student can work on together until that child does learn to read, a little more, every day, a new piece of the puzzle is added until the child can start to see the boarders around the picture and eventually breaks the reading code.

In writing a book on differentiated instruction, one of the things Jenifer Fox and I are doing is trying to give teachers the tools to break down any lesson into its component parts, maybe even predict what parts may be more complicated for some folks than others, and help teachers take their students by the hand and lead them through the woods to the clearing, here they understand and can use what’s being taught effectively on their own.

This process is important for k-12 teachers, college instructors, and even people who teach adults, give presentations and more.  We can’t assume everyone in our audiences will know and understand everything we say.  Writing them off as somehow “not getting it” is dismissive and demeaning to the audience.  We have to figure out a better way to find and reach those who are having problems grasping what we’re trying to say and find a better way to help them.  We need to learn to communicate better with them- we can’t expect them to somehow magically get “smarter” for us because our presentation is “just fine the way it is”.  Clearly, not.

Our job, in almost every aspect of our lives, is to communicate clearly with others.  If we’re too obtuse, we need to be more direct.  We need to help people understand why we think the way we do, and see our logic and reasoning.  We need to help guide others to our point of view, or toward being independent after our help.  We need to go beyond the sound bite and iconography, and help people understand why what we do is important and thought out, and how we can help them with what we have to offer.

And for those of you who think this doesn’t apply to you because you don’t teach anyone in a formal way, think about the last time you said that your boss, spouse, kids, mother, etc. “just didn’t get it.”  Right.  Your job is to make yourself better understood and ask questions, ask them to reflect what you said, whatever is necessary to make sure you have that meeting of minds.

While there are clearly times I choose not to engage in a battle because someone is not ready to hear me or listen, the vast majority of times things go better when I try to step back and alter my point of view (the only one I can control, after all), try to understand the other’s person’s point of view, and make a decision about whether this is the time and place to advance the discussion.  Sometimes the answer is a definitive “not now”.  But sometimes, if I take a few steps back and reframe the issue, the whole puzzle becomes clearer.

This happened yesterday.  I was discussion the way something was structured with a friend, and things were getting muddy between the different options and trying to figure out which one was best.  Once we hit upon the perfect analogy, a framework for the overall problem, everything within the frame became much more clear.  It meant less mucking with the details, and more big picture goal setting, which helped the rest of the pieces come into place.

Stepping back, gaining perspective on a problem, and helping others through the process is the key to good communication.  You can help people get it, and reap the rewards for making it so.  Or you can walk away, leaving neither party better for the experience, while you keep muttering “they just don’t get it.”  It may not be their fault.  It may be yours.  You might feel more superior, but I doubt that will really help you in the long run.  Helping someone else get it always pays off long term.

What do you think?  How do you solve the “just doesn’t get it” problem in your life?