A Clever Exercise That Illustrates How Difficult It Is To Communicate Effectively

It’s hard to communicate effectively with other people. Each of us bring a set of assumptions and perspectives into each conversation and it’s highly unlikely that they’re always aligned. 

There’s a clever exercise that one of the big consulting companies sends their new recruits through to illustrate the point. Small groups of new hires are given a can of Coke and asked to spend two minutes in silence writing down what they each see.

The results are borderline comedic; some new recruits write things like “can, red, soda” while others write “corporation, marketing, diabetes.” 

The same can of Coke, radically different perspectives.

It’s not hard to see this phenomenon playing out in the real world. A manager, for example, thinks she’s talking to an employee about the company’s work-from-home policy, but the employee is in a conversation about their personal freedom and livelihood. Two very different cans of metaphorical Coke.

This exercise shines a light on all sorts of common communication pitfalls. Amongst them, I’m reminded of the old wisdom: “communication isn’t what you say, it’s how you’re heard.”