Imagine yourself in a crowded university lecture hall. There are about 50 students in the class, and the professor is up front, leading a discussion about politics or religion or economics. He is steering the conversation in one direction, and your peers are feeding the fire by agreeing with his general sentiments.
But you don’t agree.
What would you do? Would you speak your mind? Or would you keep quiet, or even raise your hand to pander to your professor’s beliefs to get those participation points he talked about at the beginning of the semester?
It’s safe to say that in this scenario, our reactions are often determined by our comfort level. If we’re comfortable in a situation, we are much more likely to depart from the norm. For example, if we are having lunch with our friends, or dinner with the family, we are much more likely to speak out against capital punishment or campaign finance reform or American Idol winners, than when we are in a crowded lecture hall.
The college classroom example, however, is especially important since the purpose of college is to actively think critically and exchange independent ideas. The herd mentality that many feel while on campus is counterproductive to the goals of higher education.
So what’s the answer?
Claire Potter, a professor of history and the author of an article in “The Chronicle” which explores this relationship between students and professors, believes the answer might lie in the dining hall. She contends that if students and professors spent more time eating together, idea-exchange in class would naturally arise as a side effect of their increased interaction.
This idea of mixing levels of authority over lunch is common in the corporate world as well. Many successful companies like Google have been reported to encourage social interactions among different levels of employees with the specific purpose of increasing idea-exchange. For example, Google’s CEO might have lunch with a mid-level director, a junior associate, and an intern — not with hopes that they might share interesting ideas during lunch, but so that they will feel comfortable enough to share them in the board room later that week.
Learning how to express yourself confidently to a variety of people will help you in school, the work place and with your peers. Even though a time when students and faculty mix in the campus dining hall might be a little ways off, students can do a few things to feel more comfortable with their professors and more confident in sharing independent ideas.
How to Feel More Comfortable With Speaking in Class:
- Use your instructor’s office hours. Not only can you get help with tricky calculus problems, French verb conjugations or finalizing your thesis for a paper, you can develop a relationship that will enhance your classroom experience and critical thinking skills.
- Make sure you’re prepared for the discussion. If you know you’re stuff, you’re much more likely to share your opinions and encourage a thoughtful debate.
- Seek out seminars, classes with low student counts, and interactive instructors and professors. For some students, smaller college classes are more comfortable and less intimidating. And a professor that puts everyone at ease can go a long way in producing excellent discussions.
Do you express your opinion in class even if it’s different from what everyone else has said? What helps you feel confident in voicing your ideas?