!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: "I don't want to be dogmatic, but ..."

Monday, August 28, 2006

"I don't want to be dogmatic, but ..."

One of the professors I most admired in graduate school was Jürg Niehans, a Swiss economist who began teaching in the US in 1966. He was deeply knowledgeable and keen-witted. He was full of right answers, and he was able to come up with them very quickly.

Nevertheless, he took care not to squelch students or colleagues. One of his favorite ways of starting a comment was, "I don't want to be dogmatic, but ..." He would then explain what he thought was the correct view of whatever issue was under discussion. Everyone else around the seminar table was confident that if they had something to contribute, whether supporting or contradicting Niehans' position, he'd be happy to listen.

This approach to delivering answers one is virtually certain are correct became a model for me. Not that I use Niehans' "I don't want to be dogmatic" intro, but I do try to make it clear non-verbally that responses from others are welcome, whether or not they agree with me.

I should add that Niehans didn't hesitate to inject a note of sarcasm if someone came out with a comment that was really weak. My favorite line was Niehans' observation in one seminar that a point someone had just made "is something that's been known since antiquity at the latest."

When I think about my overall impression of Niehans, which is strongly positive, I think it illustrates part of what I said in yesterday's post. Paraphrasing: A teacher who challenges you and sets high standards is a gift.

If he has a sense of humor, that's icing on the cake.


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