“I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.”
The hardest part of communication is when the sender expresses the message to best of his or her ability but the receiver cannot wrap their brain around what is being shared.
As a part of each week’s lessons, I include an article or example for my students to evaluate. They are then to respond to a prompt about the excerpt. In a recent journal assignment, I shared an article about research writing and the fact that your words should be the star of the paper and the sources are your supporting characters. I was very surprised to read the response of one student in particular.
Their response said that they had not understood their thoughts and words were to be the star. The student only thought they were supposed to use the words of others as they developed their paper.
Even though our first SIX weeks had been about what interested the students and what their potential thesis and counterarguments would be, that particular student failed to understand that it is the author’s words, thoughts, and opinions that make a paper relevant.
I started to reply to the journal entry with an apology for not being clear on the intent behind their research, but then I asked myself,
“Can I make them understand with an apology?”
Instead I referenced our two-day activity for topic selection where the students listed, outlined, and made diagrams of topics that interested them and what they already knew or were curious about those topics. I redirected the student to the roots of our writing and guided her to heart of the matter. Her words were to be the star. The research was to be the supporting actors.
After reading my reply and revisiting our earlier lessons, the student came to me after class the next week and apologized for the previous journal. Her senioritis had apparently kicked in and she wasn’t wanting to understand. She was wanting to be snarky. I had explained it to her, but it took a bit more to get her to understand.
The guidance back to our pre-writing was a much better map discovery map for this student than an apology from me. (When no apology was really necessary.)
Think of those in your life who you can explain things to until you are blue in the face, but you just can’t seem to make them understand. Sometimes it’s easy to just apologize and go on without resolving the communication issue, but there are plenty of times where you have the power to redirect and guide the other person to a place of understanding.
Today I encourage you work on your methods for making understanding a part of your explanations. Keep positive when others aren’t receptive to your message. Put creative energy into the means by which you broadcast the message, and, maybe, just maybe they will find their way to understanding.
By: Melanie A. Peters
P.S. Your words really should be the star of your writing. Research is not for the timid. Pick strong stuff to make your words more powerful.