“For someone who loves to learn, you’re not very teachable.” ~Me, to myself about six months ago.

Child going Shhhhh
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Six months ago I had the opportunity to speak with a well-known blogger, someone who has more than 200,000 subscribers and is doing exactly what I want to do. He agreed to coach me for what ended up being more than an hour. I was excited for days before the call.

About twenty minutes into the call, I realized I wasn’t getting much out of the call.

But why? Here I was talking to someone I admire and I wasn’t learning a thing. How could this be?

And then it hit me:

Shut up.

Stop talking.

Stop trying to impress this guy with what I already know.

Stop talking about me and ask about him.

Just shut up.

That is the first secret to being teachable:

Shut up.

I discovered four traits of teachable people during that call. There are many more, but these four were new to me and might be to you.

Four uncommon traits of highly teachable people

  1. They shut up. They don’t talk much other than ask questions. 
  2. They dig deep. They ask follow-up questions, break things down, and dig deep into the content with the instructor or mentor.
  3. They don’t try to impress their teachers. We all want to show off. Admit it. Even the most humble person in the world wants to be perceived as intelligent. But in a learning situation, highly teachable people stop trying to impress and seek only to understand. Perhaps this is why you learn so well from books and audio. You are only taking it in, not trying to dish it out. There is no one to impress. 
  4. Ask questions they think they already know the answers to. This is the hallmark of a great learner. Highly teachable people are not afraid to ask questions about things they think they already know the answer to. I’m not referring to factual information (i.e. if you know who the 23rd President was, don’t ask). But when it comes to best practices and how-to information, don’t assume you have the answer. Assume your own ignorance. And don’t be afraid or unwilling to ask the seemingly easy questions.

The last fifty minutes of my meeting with the famous blogger were amazing. I learned a ton that I am putting into practice.

I also made a friend.

All because I shut up, probed deep, stopped trying to impress him, and assumed my own ignorance.

What traits do you find in highly teachable people? Are you teachable?

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15 thoughts on “Are you Teachable? | Four Uncommon Traits of Highly Teachable People

  1. Let's Grow Leaders says:

    I’ve had that same conversation 😉 You want to learn, but you want to impress, and come across as a peer. I wonder if it was with the same famous blogger… LOL. Bottom line, I found when I started listening and taking it all in, I learned a great deal. We must keep learning.

  2. Paul Jolicoeur says:

    Thanks for the great list Matt. As I read this list, I was able to see these 4 at work in people I also look up to. Today, I challenge myself to shut up! Its time to listen.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Awesome Paul! Go do it.

  3. Bill | LeadershipHeartCoaching says:

    Hi Matt,

    I couldn’t help but wonder who this popular blogger was too – LOL.

    With that said, I would like to add one thought to expand on your post. As leaders, this is great advise to follow at work too.

    We can learn a great deal more when we get past the uncomfortableness of silence after someone finishes a sentence. Rather than rushing to fill the void, when we continue to remain silent and listen, more information often comes our way – information that may provide the clarity to what we were seeking answers to.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Howdy Bill. Great point. It applies literally EVERYWHERE!

      Thanks for stopping by.

    2. Mark Sieverkropp says:

      Welcome to the blog Bill! That’s te awesome thing about the content and comments here, they always apply just as much at home as at work, as an employee or an employer. Matt’s got some great perspective like that!

      1. Bill | LeadershipHeartCoaching says:

        Thank you, Mark. I have been following the blog for a few weeks now and totally enjoying the reads.

      2. Mark Sieverkropp says:

        Well, I thoroughly enjoy having you here…no offense o Matt (and I know he won’t take any…) but I learn as much from the commenters oftentimes as I do from the actual post!

  4. Lily Kreitinger says:

    So you got a coaching call with Jon Acuff? (Or was it Michael Hyatt?) Awesome!!! I SO need to learn how to do this!! It’s extremely hard for me. I will start working on being highly teachable. Thanks, Matt!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Neither actually 🙂

  5. Mark Sieverkropp says:

    “Assume your own ignorance”. Wow. Love that!! That hit me like a ton of bricks, I’m definitely like that, I want to impress people, rather than learn from them. It’s definitely a paradigm shift!

    Thanks for sharing! These are awesome tips!

  6. Zech Newman says:

    Great Post Matt. I need to shut my big mouth too:)

  7. Philipp Knoll says:

    Shutting up help on so many occasions. Learned the same lesson a few weeks back when interviewing Kickstarter founders. The less I talk the more I get out of it. Great reminder!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      That’s too cool that you got to interview them. Is it live?

      1. Philipp Knoll says:

        It will be. Still working on it. The interviews will be combined into an eBook. But I’ve got a lot of audio, too. That will be available via a podcast. All in preparation mode now.

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