I was listening to the Tim Ferriss Show podcast episode #532 with Sheila Heen (Harvard Negotiation Project, co-author of Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most) and a specific story she told during the conversation really resonated with me and I have been thinking alot about it since I heard it. Below is the excerpt of that story in her own words.
It reminds me, I sometimes tell this story about my eldest son. His name is Ben. He’s 22 now, but when he was about three, we were driving down the street. We stopped at a traffic light, and we were working on both colors and also traffic rules, because at the time we lived on kind of a busy street in Cambridge. So we’re stopped at the light. And I say, “Hey, Ben. What color is the light?” And he says, “It’s green.” I said, “Ben, we’re stopped at the light. What color is the light? Take a good look.” And he goes, “It’s green.” And when it turns, he says, “It’s red. Let’s go.”
Now, the kid seemed bright in most other ways. So I just thought like, what is going on with him? My first hypothesis is maybe he’s color blind, which then that would be my husband’s fault. At least I thought at the time, it’s my husband’s fault. I’ve since been informed it would have been my fault.
So I started collecting data. I’m running a little scientific experiment of my own. So I start asking him to identify red and green in other contexts, and he gets it right every time. And yet every time we come to a traffic light, he’s still giving me opposite answers, because I get a little obsessed with this.
My second hypothesis, by the way, is that he is screwing with me, which I certainly had some data to support. This went on for about three weeks. It wasn’t until maybe three weeks later, and I think my mother-in-law was in town. So I was in the back seat sitting next to Ben, and we stopped at a traffic light. And I suddenly realized that from where he sits in his car seat, he usually can’t see the light in front of us, because the headrest is in the way or it’s above the level of the windshield, windscreen as they say in Europe. So he’s looking out the side window at the cross traffic light.
Now just think about the conversation from his point of view. He’s looking at the light, it’s green; I’m insisting that it’s red, and he’s like, you know, my mother seems right in most other ways, but she’s just wrong about this. The reason that that experience has stuck with me all these years is that it’s such a great illustration of the fact that where you sit determines what you see.
Great story right? I considered titling this where you sit determines what you see since that seemed to be an appropriate TLDR but I opted for the pithier title, sorry couldn’t help it. I am not going to pile on to the story with my own personal anecdotes since Sheila is a great story teller and I prefer to keep this short and sweet, but for anyone who may be frusturated because they are having an issue communicating with a colleague, spouse or friend about something… perhaps the problem has nothing to do with communication. Check your perspective!