Words of Wisdom for
Leadership, Learning, and Life in
Exactly 99 Words

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Talk Quick!
99-Word Stories to Spark Discussion about Common Management Issues
by Brian Remer

Talk Quick! is a collection of group discussion starters designed to inspire meaningful conversations about important management issues.
(12 Discussion Activities, 33 pages, Cross Referenced, $10)

Learn more HERE.

99's On the Go

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99-Word Stories by ,
Creative Learning Director of
The Flirefly Group.
© 2015 Brian Remer
Updated Oct. 2015

99's on the 9th

Ideas based on 99-Word Stories that
come to you on the 9th of every month.

October 2015 - Left Out Cold: To Include or Not?

Read this story aloud or make copies for your group or team members.

Left Out Cold
Once when Diane was at the grocery store she noticed a man in a wheelchair struggling to reach the items in the frozen food section. The door of the freezer and the height of the shelves made grasping things too difficult. She offered to help and retrieved several packages for him.

As she continued with her shopping, another customer stopped Diane with this observation, "I passed that fellow twice and never thought to ask if he needed help."

It's easy to be preoccupied with our own "shopping list" and be oblivious to the needs of others.

 

Discussion
You can build upon the theme of this 99-Word Story by using some of the following questions for your own reflection or to spark a discussion within your team or organization.

 

Interpretation
There are many ways to understand this story as the discussion questions suggest. If you or your group would like to compare or contrast your interpretation with an outside viewpoint, consider this analysis.

Actions speak louder than words.

We use this phrase to mean that what a person does is actually a proof of their true intentions. If words and actions are in opposition, it's the physical "doing" that becomes our measure of the person's ultimate integrity. You can say one thing but your actions leave evidence of the truth.

But how accurate is this assumption? Do we really know why the second shopper in the 99-Word Story did not help the man? In fact there could be a hundred reasons she did not offer assistance. The story indicates that she might have felt guilty or ashamed for not helping. Yet again, this is only speculation based on her words.

We make dozens of assumptions every day about the intentions of people based on what they do or say. Without knowing the state of their minds, we add conjecture to our observations. But we don't stop there. We add in our own experiences, values, and emotions then make evaluations, conclusions, and judgements which determine our actions. All this happens in a fraction of a second and all of it could be wrong.

This tendency is described as "The Ladder of Inference" in Peter Senge's book The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook. Senge describes the chain of assumptions, inferences, and judgements that lead us step by step up higher levels of conjecture until we leap off into action that may leave us flat on our face.

This is not to say we are clueless in our ability to know others' aims. In his book Mindwise, Nicholas Epley explores the surprising abilities our brain has to read another person's mind - at least in terms of knowing the person's intentions. Epley describes some surprising ways our minds can be highly accurate in knowing what other people think. For example, we can easily and accurately describe the views of people who are politically liberal, estimate how many students on our college campus drink too much, or know our own social status in our team at work.

But Epley also highlights the limitations of our mind reading abilities. We can't assume we know the political views of a specific liberal, we can't "read" which college students drink too much, and we can't be sure people will give us specific, honest feedback if we ask for it.

Both Epley and Senge would agree that one way to climb safely down the Ladder of Inference is to ask the other person to share their thoughts, feelings, assumptions, and understanding of a situation. That's what our protagonist, Diane, did in the 99-Word Story. Rather than assume the person in the wheelchair needed assistance, she asked if she could help.

As Epley concludes in his book, knowing another person's mind is a matter of "asking and listening not just reading and guessing."

More Information:
The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organization, by Peter M. Senge, Crown Business, 1994, ISBN: 978-0385472562.

Mindwise: Why We Misunderstand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want by Nicholas Epley, Vintage Books, Random House, New York, 2014, ISBN: 978-0-307-74356-5.

 

Did you use this 99-Word Story and the discussion questions or interpretation in your work or personal life? If so, about your experience! If you would like help using 99-Word Stories in your organization, please me.

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