Six blind men were discussing exactly what they believed an elephant to be, since each had heard how strange the creature was, yet none had ever seen one before. So the blind men agreed to find an elephant and discover what the animal was really like.
It didn’t take the blind men long to find an elephant at a nearby market. The first blind man approached the beast and felt the animal’s firm flat side. “It seems to me that the elephant is just like a wall,” he said to his friends.
The second blind man reached out and touched one of the elephant’s tusks. “No, this is round and smooth and sharp – the elephant is like a spear.”
Intrigued, the third blind man stepped up to the elephant and touched its trunk. “Well, I can’t agree with either of you; I feel a squirming writhing thing – surely the elephant is just like a snake.”
The fourth blind man was of course by now quite puzzled. So he reached out, and felt the elephant’s leg. “You are all talking complete nonsense,” he said, “because clearly the elephant is just like a tree.”
Utterly confused, the fifth blind man stepped forward and grabbed one of the elephant’s ears. “You must all be mad – an elephant is exactly like a fan.”
Duly, the sixth man approached, and, holding the beast’s tail, disagreed again. “It’s nothing like any of your descriptions – the elephant is just like a rope.”
And all six blind men continued to argue, based on their own particular experiences, as to what they thought an elephant was like. It was an argument that they were never able to resolve. Each of them was concerned only with their own idea. None of them had the full picture, and none could see any of the other’s point of view. Each man saw the elephant as something quite different, and while in part each blind man was right, none was wholly correct.
There is never just one way to look at something – there are always different perspectives, meanings, and perceptions, depending on who is looking. The essence of all relationships, especially team working relationships, is communication. It is through communication that we share information, make decisions, solve problems, and accomplish day-to-day jobs. If you can’t communicate well, it is difficult to work closely and effectively as a team or a team member.
To say there is a lot going on in any communication process is an understatement. It is a complex process. It is difficult to put our internal perceptions, feelings, motives etc. into meaning and words. We often misunderstand messages from others because we interpret them through the filter or our own attitudes, feelings, motives and experiences. Nonverbal behaviors may communicate a different message than visual behaviors or words and this can be a source of mixed messages.
We all know that two people can see or experience the same event and draw different conclusions. We are “set up” to have different perception filters due to values, cultures, past experiences, upbringing, age etc. It is important to understand that another person can perceive something different from you and still be right. So how do we overcome these differences in perceptions in the communication process? Trust each other. Believe that others can see things you don’t see or understand and remain teachable to allow for learning from each other.
What are your perceptions? Do they impede communication? Are you aware of them?