Thursday, February 18, 2010

Do you know when you are filtering?

I attended a Managing Partner Workshop in NYC a few months ago and one of the exercises the instructors used was a 3 minute film clip that all 10 of us new managing partners were instructed to watch.

The video clip was of a bunch of teens passing a basketball amongst themselves. Three of the group were wearing white shirts and three were wearing black. We were instructed to count the number of times the teens in the white shirts passed the ball to each other. We were further instructed that a pass could be in the air, off the ground or off a body. With those instructions in mind, the clip rolled.

Three minutes later, the video was shut off and we were each asked how many passes we saw. A few of us came up with the same number while one or two were wildly off. The instructors then asked us if we saw anything else on the video to which we all shook our heads “no”. The instructors smiled and flipped the video back on. Imagine our surprise to see a man in a gorilla suit walk out during the basketball game, turn towards the camera, wave and then slowly walk off.

How had a whole room of supposedly intelligent people manage to miss a gorilla!! The fact is, we were viewing the scene through the filter that had been set in place by the instructors. We were so intent on counting the passes so we would win the contest that we didn’t see the most obvious part of the scene before us.

This exercise taught me a lot about why so often communication between opposing sides is difficult. We all filter. Each of us receives information imperfectly and each of us fits the messages we do receive into something shaped by our own past experience, bias and state of mind. Is it any wonder that none of us lets the facts stand in our way?

Next time you are dealing with a difficult person in your community, ask yourself if you have your filter turned on and whether or not you are missing something important that should be plain as day.

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