Learning by osmosis – an analysis
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There are many different methods of learning and the effectiveness of each will vary for different people. It is widely believed that it is possible to absorb, process and retain information more easily if that information is presented using that particular person’s preferred learning technique. Some people learn most effectively using visual means, which may include imagery or the colour-coding of notes. Others prefer auditory learning, whereby they are able to assimilate information by listening to it being read aloud or by associating it with certain sounds or songs. In addition to these, popular learning styles include kinaesthetic, linguistic, logical, interpersonal and intrapersonal. Yet when working in legal practice (or in many other roles where communication is key), there is another type of learning which I for one have found extremely useful throughout my short career to date – namely, learning by osmosis.
The meaning of this phenomenon seems to vary depending on its context. For me, it is, quite simply, the act of learning from others in a purely practical sense. I am lucky enough to have the advantage of working in an open plan environment. This enables me to constantly hear those around me as they carry out their own work. While some might try to tune out what they consider to be unnecessary distractions, I always endeavour to take in every word, assessing for myself the different styles of advising, discussing and negotiating, and how these differ between each of my colleagues. Many of my own interpersonal skills have been developed and honed through such observation and only by experiencing the numerous diverse styles of others have I been able to begin establishing a unique one of my own.
Interestingly, the attitudes of others towards this learning method can influence its impact considerably. Those who are perhaps a little more self-conscious may not feel comfortable with having their words analysed in such a way. Some senior colleagues may even be disconcerted by the idea that they may be overheard in potentially awkward situations. During my second year of training, my then-supervisor gave me the excellent opportunity to sit in on a call with a client in the course of which he had to apologise for an error he had made previously. Although lots of supervisors may have preferred to keep such a call private from a trainee, he explained that, as everyone makes mistakes at some point, it is best to know in advance how to respond to them. Indeed, this frank and very realistic view from my supervisor and his actions relating to it caused my respect for him to be far greater than it would have been had he maintained the pretence and superior persona adopted by some professionals.
I truly believe that learning by osmosis cannot be overvalued; the amount that we can learn from those around us is incalculable. Our surroundings and those in it often shape who we are and enable us to enhance ourselves as a result. So be sure to pay attention and look, listen and learn!