Everything you have to share is not intended for everyone to hear. Whether it’s a promotion at work, baby on the way, or the reuniting with a long lost love, when it comes to sharing your good news every listening ear has a level of readiness to receive. I’d like to introduce you to what I call the zone of proximal readiness. You can use this zone to determine to what extent a person is best ready to celebrate the good news with you.
To understand this idea, let’s explore a concept known throughout the field of education as the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The “zone” is the space between where you can perform a task on your own, and where you can do something only with guidance. The ZPD is an indicator about what a person is ready to learn, based on what they already know.
As an example of being in your zone, think about your ability to fly an airplane. If you’re a licensed driver, then you probably know how to drive a vehicle. For you, learning to operate a tractor could be less challenging than for someone who’s never driven any vehicle before. With a bit of guidance from an experienced pilot (and maybe a lot of practice), you could learn to fly with ease. For someone who has never been behind the wheel of any vehicle — car, plane, boat, tractor — driving is a task that lies outside of their zone. It would take even more learning for them to get to the point where they are ready to drive.
Your zone of proximal development is the place where learning something new for you feels just right — it’s not too difficult that you are frustrated, and it’s not so easy that you are not growing. The reason learning feels appropriate in your zone is because you bring a certain amount of knowledge and experience to the new learning. You’re able to use what you know to learn what you don’t know.
Just as there is the Zone of Proximal Development for learning, I’d like to propose that there is also a zone of proximal engagement, or the space indicating a person’s readiness to converse on a subject. The zone is the intersection between experiences and beliefs as it relates to a particular topic. Experiences teach people how to navigate situations. They also help people form opinions in order to establish what they believe to be true. Talking with someone who is in your zone of proximal engagement feels good, and it’s a conversation you want to continue.
So you have just received a promotion at work! Congratulations! You share the news with your cousin who happens to be in the zone intersecting her three year unemployment streak (experience) with her pessimism about the job market (belief). Your cousin is not in your zone at the present time (perhaps she will be at a later date). She wasn’t the right person to share your good news with because her readiness to receive the information is rooted in experiences she could have perceived as bad luck.
Her beliefs about available opportunities may have been challenged because she hadn’t seen success as it relates to securing work. You met your cousin outside of her zone, and it was probably uncomfortable for her.
Sharing your good news with people who are outside of your zone can be challenging for them. Even our loved ones who have the best intentions to support and celebrate us bring their own set of experiences and beliefs that can trigger unexpected responses to your good news. In order to find out if the person is equipped to embrace your good news, take the time to stand in their shoes. Can the person relate to what you have to share based on their experiences? If so, were the experiences perceived as positive by them? The next thing to consider is what the person believes to be true about the topic. Are their beliefs compatible with yours? Contradictory to yours? Or neutral?
Taking a moment to understand the other person’s perspective can help you enter into a conversation with a greater understanding of how they may react. Your preparation alone will help you determine if you should share your good news with the person. Remember, everything you have to share is not intended for everyone to hear.
(Note: Although this article is about having sharing good news with people inside your zone, I encourage you to step outside of your zone sometimes. As the saying goes, life begins outside of your comfort zone. Doing so is a great way to stretch your thinking and to grow. People outside of your zone can challenge you to think differently, and can offer varying viewpoints.)
Fenesha Hubbard, a student of metaphysics for nearly 25 years, facilitates learning by helping people navigate difficult topics with ease. She is a lover of life and chooses to make it great daily. Check her out at fenesha.com.