One of the techniques I use for my own technical education is to ask someone a question or present them with a problem, then think through the same issue while listening to them work it out. As it proceeds, I ask handfuls of Socratic questions. As I ask each question out loud, I answer it myself silently, and compare my answers with the ones I hear from my counterpart.
It’s not introspection, since I’m not looking solely within myself. It’s also not an examination or an inspection, since my purpose is not to evaluate my partner. So, I coined a new word, which with Google’s help I discovered is not a new word at all: transpection; or transpective dialog. Verb form: transpect.
Transpection basically means to learn by putting yourself in someone else’s place. The transpective dialogs I do are about using someone else’s knowledge, biases, and methods as a counterpoint to my own as I try to solve a problem for myself. As I do this, I generally don’t share my own thoughts, for fear of biasing my partner toward my own way of thinking. The essence of transpection is to get the maximum value out of seeing the world as the other person sees it.
Problems With Transpection
- Most people feel like they are being interrogated or even tortured (and not in the good senses of those words) when I ask all those critical questions during transpection. Whereas I know what my intentions are, they may not, and sometimes they don’t believe me when I tell them.
- Some people think I’m judging them, even when I’m not. And sometimes I am also judging them.
- In one extreme case, I was accused of treating someone like a lab rat. I tried to explain that “lab rat” is just a loaded way of saying “someone from whom I learn” and yes, I did treat her as someone from whom I could learn. She was not mollified.
- In general, I find I don’t mind when someone does a transpection on me. Actually, I never know for sure if that’s what they’re doing. From my point of view it just looks like they are very interested in what I have to say. I like being listened to. I like to talk. The interrogation aspect rolls off of me, for some reason. Maybe I just like taking tests. This may be why it’s taken me years to realize that everyone does not enjoy being questioned.
Tips for Happier Transpection
Here’s what I have begun to do to help my colleagues and students get excited about doing transpection with me:
- I distinguish between shallow and deep transpections. With shallow transpection, I don’t ask many questions, the questions are not as sharp, and I share more of my thoughts along the way. Shallow transpection is outwardly identical to that which we call “listening” and is not at all controversial.
- I explain the transpection process and ask permission before doing a deep transpection.
- I avoid doing deep transpection on people who are not my students or close colleagues.
- I invite them to do transpection on me.
- I watch their reactions and if they seem to get irritated, I disclose some or all of my own ideas and feelings about the situation I’m inquiring about. I will also disclose the specific motivations behind each question I ask.
- I talk about transpection as part of a general philosophy of sophisticated team learning. To do this with me is to participate in an exciting and vital process.
- I make a point of listing the things I’ve learned and thanking my partner for helping me learn from them.
Here are some quotes I came across while Googling about this:
Milton J. Bennett: “[Transpection is] the ability to imagine oneself in a role within the context of a different culture”
Yasuhiko Genku Kimura: “Transpection includes but transcends extrospection and introspection.”
Silvia Teresita AcuÃ±a and Graciela Elisa Barchini: “This process consists in getting into the â€œheadâ€? of another person. This means trying to think like the other person (temporarily, one person â€œbelieves and feelsâ€? everything that the other person â€œbelieves and feelsâ€?). This process of â€œassumingâ€? the thoughts of another person is not easy and it will take people who have never tried it a long time.”
Another common problem in transpection just occurred to me while reading some of the comments. When somebody I’m transpecting says something that reveals a new insight for me, I tend to get excited, and I follow up with questions that I’m told sound especially sharp and even angry. Actually I’m very happy, as a shark is happy to find a tasty sea lion. The sea lion might get the impression that the shark is angry, but he’s really not.
This is a critical moment, because just when I’m learning something profound, my partner may take his brain and go home. I’m still learning how to manage this. For now, I’m consciously forcing myself to say happy encouraging things while this is happening, instead of getting carried away by the content and implications of the new insight and asking only content-oriented questions. It’s not a foolproof solution, though. I’ve found that people sometimes don’t believe me when I say I’m learning something from them. Sometimes they think I’m mocking them. It’s an imperfectly solved problem, in my practice so far.
My struggle is partly that a lot of transpection feels, when I initiate it, like a personal learning process, whereas it is actually, of course, a social process.