Exploring Misunderstandings

A few years ago, I was leading a program with a global tech company for fifty of their directors and VPs. A man sitting in the front row was particularly attentive, one of those people who gives lots of good energy, even without saying anything. At the first break, he came up to ask me a question and we talked for fifteen minutes. Then, from the moment I started the next module until lunch, this man was constantly checking his phone. I thought, “We had a nice connection and now look at him. How disrespectful.” When we broke for lunch, he came right up to me and said, “I’m so sorry; I got a text that my son was in an accident but I didn’t want to be disrespectful and just leave while you were talking.”

This is a painful reminder for me that my story about a situation is NOT the same as the facts of that situation. It was heartbreaking enough; if I had said anything about him being disrespectful, it would have been too horrible. He was being TOO respectful – he should have run out of the room the moment the first text came through. He was from a country I’ve never visited so I had no idea what cultural norms he was used; this made it even more important to hear his story before acting on my own. I often tell this story to corporate clients, and exploring these kinds of misunderstandings is one of the main themes of my book, The Snow Clown.