Do you hear Yanny or Laurel?
These questions have captivated our minds. People pick sides and arguments ensue.
After hundreds of thousands of people weighed in online as to whether they hear yanny or laurel, votes were essentially split down the middle.
I’ll save you some time and perhaps relationship strife: Both sides are right.
We all know this leadership lesson, but it’s easy to forget: Everyone doesn’t see (or hear) things the same way that you do. That doesn’t make the other side’s perspective wrong. It just means this life thing is more complex, nuanced, and unique than we often want to make it.
In fact, we’ve been having the same kind of arguments for hundreds if not thousands of years. Whether it’s the topic of religion, politics, climate change, race, or the NFL playoffs, it’s difficult to relinquish our stranglehold on the way we see (or hear) things.
In 1990, Elizabeth Newton, a Stanford University graduate student in psychology, set up a simple study to show what is referred to as “the curse of knowledge” in action. She assigned people one of two roles in her study: “tapper” or “listener.” Each tapper picked a well-known song like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” or “Happy Birthday,” and then tapped the rhythm of the song on a table. The listeners’ only job was to guess the song.
The listeners predicted they would be able to identify about 50% of the songs, but after the 120 songs were tapped out, only three songs—a whopping 2.5 percent—were guessed correctly. The tappers were frustrated and could not understand how the listeners could not hear the correct tune.
This illustrated the curse of knowledge, because the problem is that once we know something—say, the melody of a song—we find it hard to imagine not knowing it. We forget the path it took us to learn it, see it, or hear it, and then we can’t understand how anyone couldn’t see or hear it the same way we do.
This phenomenon is happening on every team and in every company, every family, and every group of human beings on the planet. Everyone around the table sees the same problem that is in the middle of the group from a slightly different perspective. We all hear a slightly different pronunciation.
If this is the case, then (and it is), what are some things that the best leaders, teams and organizations do to get healthy cultures moving forward in the midst of differing perspectives, ideas and experiences?
- Acknowledge differences. There is more than one way to see any person or problem. Identify the differences that exist so that you do not blindly assume all are on the same page. Just because someone has a different perspective doesn’t mean their vision isn’t real to them.
- Seek to understand. Many leaders misinterpret leadership to mean they are there to solve every problem and often come into the room seeking to be understood rather than stepping back and seeking to understand the situation. Shifting the mindset from a need to be understood to a desire to understand allows for greater connection, creativity, and possibilities. When we seek to understand the perspectives of others more clearly, we all grow.
- Encourage participation—not consensus. Conversations are the currency for change. The healthiest teams make time to communicate and find alignment. This doesn’t mean they have to find consensus for everything to move forward, but they welcome participation and differing voices. They are able to agree to disagree, but still move forward with clear, collaborative action.
Yanny or Laurel?
Remember…you’re both right.
Jason V. Barger is a globally celebrated keynote speaker, leadership coach and author of Thermostat Cultures, Step Back from the Baggage Claim and ReMember. He is founder of Step Back Leadership Consulting, a Columbus-based company that works with businesses and organizations worldwide. Connect with Jason online at www.JasonVBarger.com, via email at jason@JasonVBarger.com or on social media at @JasonVBarger.
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