Our dog Watson lives in the same reality we do, but he experiences it completely differently. He and I walk together, but he smells more and sees less than I do. His view from his favorite sitting spot by the back door is at a different angle than mine. I think the woodpeckers and bluejays are interesting but his terrier genes only care about rodents and rabbits. We both passionately love with my wife, but for different reasons.
Leaders, all the people in your organization, all your customers, everyone in your sphere of influence, is living in the same reality, but experience it differently than you do. Our past experiences shape our perceptions. We have frameworks from social history, our education, even our language which influences what information we consider most important. Our self-identity and role identity affects how we weight information in making judgments, and how we respond to one another.Our past experiences shape our perceptions. Click To Tweet
This is difficult enough, but it gets even harder for leaders: you can’t possibly know the full story.
Even before we started exploring quantum physics, philosophers knew that you and I only experience a tiny fraction of reality. For practical reasons your conscious brain is ignoring most of the sensory information coming in. Our senses only pick up a fraction of the spectrum of light and sound. Our bodies are unable to interpret the magnetic fields, wifi signals, radio and TV broadcasts penetrating us all the time. Your body tells you that your sitting quietly in a chair on a flat surface – but you’re actually gravitationally bound to the surface of a fast-spinning sphere in orbit around a star moving laterally in a spiral galaxy.
These two challenges should keep you humble and patient with others:
- People around you interpret the same reality differently. Therefore, they may draw completely different conclusions that you do from the same information.
- None of us have all the information available.
Keep these things in mind when you’re surprised people can’t see something that’s obvious to you. It doesn’t help to be frustrated with them, even if they’re frustrated with you. Remember that we’re likewise limited in our abilities, imperfect in our interpretations, and don’t have all the information.