How Do You "Know"?


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Each of us has a “Way of Knowing” that filters our experience of ourselves, others, and our relationships. This chart offers a framework based on Robert Kegan’s constructive-developmental theory to understand how each of us, depending on our way of knowing, develops during adulthood. It also includes ideas about how we can challenge ourselves and support each other's growth.

First identify which “way of knowing” best describes you. Then explore the ideas for furthering your development to incorporate other ways of knowing. You can download this chart as a pdf.

4 Ways of Knowing: Rule-Based :: Other-Focused :: Reflective :: Interconnecting


I am rule-based.

The most important thing:

Fulfilling my own needs, interests, and desires.

Guiding questions:

  • “Will I get punished?”
  • “What’s in it for me?”


  • Rules.
  • Clear definition of right and wrong.
  • Immediate self-interest.
  • Other people are either helpful or obstacles.
  • Abstract thinking has no meaning.

Learning exercises
to try:

Dialogues that offer multiple perspectives and go beyond “right” and “wrong.”

Tasks at your “growing edge”:

  • Be open to possibility of new “right” solutions.
  • Take on tasks that demand abstract thinking.

Ways to support the growth of these folks:

  • Set clear goals and expectations, agree on step-by-step procedures and specific due dates.
  • Offer concrete advice, specific skills.


Blue Brain Illu
I am 0ther-focused.

The most important thing:

Meeting expectations and getting approval.

Guiding questions:

  • “Will you like/value me?”
  • “Will you think I am a good person?”


    • Authority figures set goals.
    • Self-image comes from others’ judgment.
    • Responsible for others’ feelings and vice versa.
    • Criticism and conflict are threatening.

      Learning exercises
      to try:

      • Dialogue that helps to generate and clarify one’s own values.
      • Share perspectives in pairs or triads before sharing with larger groups and authority figures.

      Tasks at your “growing edge”:

      • Generate own values and standards.
      • Accept conflicting viewpoints without seeing them as a threat to relationships.

        Ways to support the growth of these folks:

        • Invite to leadership roles.
        • Demonstrate ways to confirm, acknowledge, and accept others’ beliefs.
        • Model disagreement without threat to relationships.


        Yellow Brain Illu

        I am reflective.

        The most important thing :

        Staying true to my values, which I generate.

        Guiding questions:

        “Am I staying true to my own personal integrity, standards, and values?”


        • Set goals based on own values and standards.
        • Self-image based on my evaluation of my competencies and integrity.
        • Contradictory feelings and conflict are ways to learn.

        Learning exercises to try:

        Facilitate dialogue, especially when perspectives are diametrically opposed.

        Tasks at your “growing edge”:

        • Open up to diverse and opposing views.
        • Accept and learn from diverse problem-solving approaches.

        Ways to support the growth of these folks:

        • Offer opportunities to promote, analyze, and critique one’s goals and ideas.
        • Encourage consideration of conflicting or discordant ideas.


        Green Brain Illu

        I am interconnecting.

        The most important thing:

        Reflecting on my identity, being open to others’ views and to changing myself.

        Guiding questions:

        “How can other people’s thinking help me to develop and grow?”


          • Set goals in collaboration.
          • Share power.
          • Find common ground, even with seeming opposites.
          • Open to exploration, conflict, complexity, and others’ perspectives.

            Learning exercises
            to try:

            • Affiliate with an authority or an impersonal system.
            • Commit to a project without a clear purpose.
            • Appreciate the time it takes to reach a conclusion when others may not move at the same pace.

            Tasks at your “growing edge”:

            • Accept that some differences cannot be resolved.
            • Avoid insisting on absolutely flat, nonhierarchal approaches.

              Ways to support the growth of these folks:

              • Encourage refraining from taking over and rushing a process.
              • Model sensitivity to those who do not have the same capacity (e.g., for conflict).

                Ellie Drago-SeversonEllie Drago-Severson wrote this article for Learn as You Go, the Fall 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. Ellie writes, consults, and teaches about adult educational leadership at Columbia University. Her work is inspired by the idea that schools must be places where adults as well as children can grow.


                Becoming adult learners: Principles and practices for effective development. Drago-Severson, E. (2004a).  New York: Teachers College Press.

                Helping teachers learn: Principal leadership for adult growth and development. Drago-Severson, E. (2004b). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

                Helping teachers learn: Principals as professional development leaders. Teachers College Record,  Drago-Severson, E. (2007). 109(1), 70–125.

                Leading adult learning: Supporting adult development in our schools. Drago-Severson, E. (2009). Thousand Oaks, CA.: Corwin/Sage.

                The evolving self: Problems and process in human development. Kegan, R. (1982). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.

                In over our heads: The mental demands of modern life. Kegan, R. (1994).  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.

                What “form” transforms? A constructive-developmental approach to transformative learning. Kegan, R. (2000).  In J. Mezirow & associates (Eds.), Learning as transformation (pp. 35–70). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

                Immunity to change: How to overcome it and unlock the potential in yourself and your organization. Kegan, R., & Lahey, L. L. (2009). Boston: Harvard Business School Press.


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