How Do You Feel?
MAM Class of 2017
It’s an amazing question, which we Chinese don’t ask this question too much. In spring semester here, one elective I chose became the most meaningful course I ever had in my life. And we asked this question in almost every class. This elective is called “Interpersonal Dynamics”, short for “IPD”.
Students observe how individual behavior affects others in real time, practice key leadership skills with peer feedback, and learn to connect across differences. Through experiential-based activities, students ultimately improve their abilities to authentically engage, communicate, and influence . Now, you can slightly feel the magic of IPD. Let me explain more.
We meet only once a week in class. Before the class, students need to finish all assigned readings, to help better understand the terms and theories introduced in the class. In the beginning of the class, our lecturer Prof. David Tate (for Wednesday session) will read us a poem, to define the topic of the class. During the 3-hour class, the lecturer will lead the class to group discussion and all kinds of practices. One practice impressed me a lot was “the Privilege Walk’. During this practice, all the students stand at one side of the classroom. The lecturer will ask a serial of question. If the students choose to answer “Yes”, they should walk from the start point to the other side of the classroom. Usually, the lecturer will start with simple questions, such as, “Are you the only child at home?”. The degree of difficulty escalates, to questions like, “Have you or your family experienced divorces?” or “Have you ever involuntarily missed a meal?”. Those questions aroused some unfortunate memories some students had. But the more important thing is, those questions helped students to better know each other. A lot of us could not help to cry when knowing others’ stories and background. This practice enhanced the cohesive force of the whole class. I became more respectful to this group, and more willing to know them more.
The other part of IPD is called “the lab”, it usually held in the same evening, right after the class. The whole group has been divided into 3 small labs, with 15 students in each lab. There is no specific topic or exercise for the lab, students just communicate with each other in free style. The lecturer encouraged us to focus more on the conversations happened in the lab, not bringing external topic into the lab. I still remembered it was a little bit awkward and boring in the first hour of the first lab. We barely knew each other, and did not know how to initiate the conversation. In the second half, some of my lab member suggested maybe we can form some group norms, and the discussion began. We used the toolkit the lecturer gave us to communicate, actively expressing feelings like “I feel more connected with you after hearing what you said.” Or “I feel hurt by your words.” The key point of the communication in the lab is, think less and feel more.
I had three major discoveries as the lab proceeding:
- Language barrier made it more difficult to understand others’ feelings. The expression and phrases American students used, were hugely different from what I used to know. It was a double-layer learning for me, language and culture.
- In general, Asians are not good at express feelings. Oriental culture is more restraining. We get used to hiding feelings. For Chinese, we are encouraged to only share positive feelings.
- Tears is a key component during the whole process. Some of them are from sorrow, but most of them are from relief. Including myself, all of my lab members disclosed some deep feelings they hid and held all the time. It was a great progress, because most of the people will be more open and willing to share after they relive mental defense.
I would like to end today, by quoting an official description of IPD: “Known to many as the “Touchy Feely” class, Interpersonal Dynamics has been voted the most popular elective for 45 years running at Stanford GSB. Yale School of Management introduced this course many years ago, students gave an extremely positive reaction. For years this course has been transforming the lives of our students, helping them unlock their true leadership potential.”
By the way, I officially graduated on May 22, 2017!