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I want to share with you a “hypothetical” situation that may or may not have occurred yesterday. It centered around the cleaning out of a refrigerator, which really is not the point of the story. 


Before I share the hypothetical event, let me start by describing the characters: left-brain (LB) and right-brain (RB). I am sure you have heard of people being described as being left-brained or right-brained, meaning how they process information. Left-brained individuals are described as being analytical, verbal, and sequential. On the other hand (or brain), right-brained people tend to be more intuitive, visual, and relationship based. (The research is not actually this clean, but let’s go with it for the purpose of this story.)


The setting is a kitchen on a Saturday afternoon. Picture two well-educated individuals (LB and RB) are dividing up cleaning duties. LB wants to clean out the refrigerator. All is good until LB announces the intention to take out the shelves. What RB knows is that the shelves on this “fancy dancy” refrigerator are very intricate and complicated to remove and most especially to replace.  What RB also knows is that LB has NO visual spatial gene! Could not find the way out of a wet paper bag with a map and would certainly never figure out how to put the shelves back!


So when LB announces the intention to pull out the selves to clean them, RB says, “I don’t think that is a good idea! They are difficult to pull out, and you will never be able to put them back in again. Wiping them off with a Clorox wipe will be just fine!”


LB insists on pulling them out, so RB leaves the room (maybe stomps out) saying, “Then I will NOT help you put them back in!” RB then listens to LB for the next 20 minutes struggling with one shelf, finally getting it out and not being able to get it back in. RB is thinking, but certainly not saying, that by now the entire refrigerator could have been cleaned!


Finally LB says, “OK, I can’t get this back in; you will have to.”


With only a little satisfaction, RB goes back to the kitchen and states, “Now what lesson have we learned?”


LB answers, “The shelves are harder to put back than I thought?” 


RB: “No!  That is not the lesson; try again.”


LB: “I’m not good at putting back shelves?”


RB: “No. The lesson is you should trust me when I tell you something!”


LB: “OK, I should have trusted and listened to you. Now will you help me put the shelf back?”


RB and LB eventually get the shelf back in. As they are working, RB says, “I like it when we do things together!”


Oh, my goodness! A fly (or psychologist) on the wall of this “hypothetical” event would have a field day in analyzing it! We have one scene and two very different perspectives.


For left brain, it is about the task. For right brain, it is about the relationship! Same scenario . . . two interpretations!


It makes me think of other situations where there is conflict.

  • The teacher thinks it is about the failure to implement a modification; in the mother’s heart, it is really about the lack of apology.
  • The student thinks it is about the teacher not liking him; the teacher thinks it is about the student not doing his homework.

We can all think of situations where if we could identify the root of the conflict it would be easier to resolve. Perhaps, when in such a situation, we should first strive to understand the other person’s perspective before trying to solve the problem. Covey calls it “seek first to understand.”  I think I will try it next time!

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