What we can learn from Yanni and Laurel

If you haven’t heard the latest debate, you can click here and test if you are hearing Laurel or Yanni. This piece of audio has sparked a debate similar to the famous gold or blue dress from 2016.

In this case, it’s fairly innocent. We can disagree on social media what we hear, but what happens if we apply this to business — when you believe so strongly in something that you do not even consider any other options? I am sure we are all familiar with that co-worker or boss who has an answer for everything and always wants to be right.

Jean Piaget, the famous cognitive psychologist, performed a fascinating experiment with children that demonstrates this type of behavior. He would give a child a cube colored half red and half green and let the child get acquainted with it. Then he would sit opposite the child and, holding the cube in his hand, ask him, “What color do you see?” The child would correctly respond, “green.” His following question was, “What color do you think I see?” Children aged four or five unhesitatingly responded “green,” reflecting an age‐appropriate belief that their experiences defined reality. Interestingly, Piaget discovered that children between ages six and eight developed the cognitive capacity to adopt a different perspective than their own. (They would correctly deduce that Piaget saw red on the other side of the block.)

So why is it that we cannot seem to grasp that some of us hear Yanni and others Laurel? We have long passed our toddler years….

As human beings, we have an endless capacity to create stories in our minds and fill in the blanks when part of the story is missing. It becomes dangerous when we start to believe our stories as the truth instead. Because we are so wrapped up in our own stories, we can have a tendency to forget that others have their own stories, and we fail to really listen because we believe we already have the answer. We forgot that the other side of the cube can have a different color.

We often impose our ideas on others, which creates conflict and frustration. The key is to adopt a humbler attitude, be curious about the other person’s perspective, inquire about what’s true for them, and engage in a more productive conversation. How did they arrive at a conclusion? How is it different or similar to yours?

Another part to this is to listen skillfully. A great way to avoid misunderstandings is to pay attention to the other person’s words and what they are trying to say and then paraphrase back to them what you heard to ensure you really understood.

Yanni and Laurel are a great reminder that even though we are listening to the exact same audio recording, we hear something different, and we should not make any assumptions but remain curious.

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