Learning by shutting up

The possible political angle of the story of Clara Stokes receiving ‘inhumane’ treatment in a Luton hospital, according to her family, is not the reason for this post. Rather I am interested in the spokesman’s response at the bottom of the article.

The family say that Clara was abandoned for hours at a time, left to lie in her own diarrhoea, not given proper food or access to water and generally negleted. The spokesman is reported to have said,

“There were no long periods when Mrs Stokes was left unattended. We also believe Mrs Stokes received high quality nursing care, including being turned every two hours to avoid pressure sores, proper feeding and constant monitoring.”

Now I know that a spokesman’s job is to deflect and deny, but that seems such a strong denial that I wonder if anyone at that hospital is learning anything at all.

Russell Ackoff says that there are two types of errors.

  1. The error of commission – where you do something wrong
  2. The error of omission – where you don’t do something you should have done

Ackoff goes on to explain that you don’t learn from omission. You only learn by making mistakes. Neither do you learn from getting things right.

I would add that you also don’t learn when you make a mistake and then deny it.

The defensive stance will not lead to genuine evaluation, learning and improvement. It is also true that you can tell if people are learning. If they are talking, they are not listening and certainly not learning. People who notice their mistakes and really are thinking about them usually are very quiet. Not necessarily from shame or a reluctance to get caught out, but because they are talking in what is happening.

You can facilitate your own learning by mimicking this and forcing yourself to be quiet and listen. Don’t be rude by not responding at all, nod or verbally acknowledge what is happening, but for the most part keep what you are thinking to yourself. You will probably want to explain all the mitigating circumstances and reasons why, but by keeping an open mind, keeping quiet and listening you will find that you create the space in your own head to firstly acknowledge to yourself what went wrong but also perhaps some ways to fix or prevent the problem in the future.

Talking, especially when you are denying something, blocks productive thought.



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