Mandatory training in America is usually there to protect the company rather than teach you something new. But a number of years ago I attended a class that taught a life lesson I have tried to pay attention to every day since.
This particular class was entitled “Diversity Training” and I expected the usual loss of an hour of my life while someone explained things that were (or should be) patently obvious to anyone with an IQ above that of a hammer.
We knew something was up when we arrived to find a room with no tables or chairs, just flip charts and some pens in each corner.
The instructor got down to business by dividing us into groups and giving each group a piece of paper. Our instructions were simple: Read the paper, listen to the scenarios that she would read out and then write down our thoughts on the flip chart we had.
After several scenarios were read and thoughts written we compared the results.
The first scenario she read was as follows:
“The person on your sheet has just brought in the biggest account the company has ever had.”
The flip charts were arranged such that the groups could not see each others answers so imagine our surprise when we found the following results:
- What a guy!
- We should take him out for a drink to celebrate
- Give him a big bonus!
- Give him a promotion!
- I’d like to shake his hand
- He got lucky
- Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while
- Probably stole the account from someone else and didn’t give credit
- If he can do it then anyone can
Huh? Same question, read by the same person at the same time. What happened?
The difference was what was on the piece of paper.
Group 1 had a paper that read “The person you are about to hear about is well liked, hard working, intelligent and expected to go places. Everyone expects that he is on the fast track to senior management.”
Group 2, by contrast, had a paper that read “The person you are about to hear about is lazy, not particularly intelligent, never helps anyone out and is fully expected to be let go in the near future.”
There were more scenarios such as the person losing the biggest account (Group 1 commiserated while Group 2 wanted him fired) but I think you get the picture. The message was the same, but what people heard was completely altered by what they personally brought to the table.
This is human nature and it is very hard, if not impossible, to avoid infecting what you hear with your own biases, but I still try. More importantly I try hard to keep my thoughts about someones faults to myself to avoid infecting others. I can’t say I am always successful, but at least I try.
So the next time you hear something that you feel negative about take a moment to think about it. Are you getting the real message, or the message you wanted to hear?