Turning the tables

By Greg Nathan posted December 3, 2021
Just over 10 years ago, my team and I decided we would close our Brisbane office and work from our respective homes. While many clients and colleagues expressed skepticism this could work, as you have probably now experienced first hand, it's not really such a big deal.

One thing I have missed is the fun meetings and lunches we used to have sitting around a beautiful Blackwood boardroom table that my brother made for us. When we closed the office, I sold the table to my friend Rick. Over the years, my brother built me several other tables of various shapes and sizes, like the square Oak coffee table that sits in our lounge room, and on which I proudly display my guitars.

As it is Psychology Week in Australia, I was thinking of something suitably psychological to write about. It so happens that Rick called me the other day to say he was moving house and couldn't fit the long Blackwood table into his new apartment, and did I know anyone who might appreciate it. I am pleased to say it has found a new home with my brother-in-law. So why am I telling you all this?

The amazing two tables

Take a look at the two tables below. What would you say if I told you they were the same shape and size? While you may think they are as different as my long boardroom table and my square coffee table, I promise you they are both rectangular and exactly the same size and shape. If you don't believe me, cut a piece of paper the size of either tabletop and you will see that if you turn it 90 degrees, it will fit perfectly over the other. This powerful illusion was first published in 1990 by Stanford psychologist Roger Shepard.
The In-Group Out Group-Effect

An important role of psychology is to help us understand ourselves and the world more clearly, so we can make better choices and live more useful lives. This is easier said than done because the human brain has a tendency to cut corners and distort information. It does this so it can save energy and make decisions more quickly. What we think is objective reality is, more often than not, coloured by various biases.

A common psychological bias is the 'in-group out-group' effect. We all have a tendency to make snap judgments about whether we like or dislike others based on superficial differences. For instance, their sports team, taste in music, or friends we have in common. In franchising, this in-group out-group effect often plays out with people making assumptions about each others' motives or trustworthiness, depending on whether they are a franchisee or whether they work for the franchisor. It is amazing how I have seen his play out with hostile exchanges in meetings between groups because either party sees the other as a 'them' rather than an 'us'. 

More often than not, the truth is that we are far more alike than different, and our interests are more aligned than we would like to admit. But our brains jump to conclusions, just like yours did when looking at the two tables above.

Holding strong opinions loosely

One of my clients found it useful to regularly remind his franchisees and franchisor team to "hold strong opinions loosely". Indeed I have found the smartest people are those who are open to shifting a belief or a position in the face of new information. They hold strong opinions loosely and are guided by evidence rather than assumptions.

So next time you find yourself feeling hostile toward someone based on your belief of what you think is true, you might want to turn the tables and try to see things from their perspective. You may well find you are more 'we' than 'they'. 
I'll leave you with an extract from the Rudyard Kipling poem, We and They:

All good people agree,

And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
And everyone else is They.
But if you cross over the sea,
Instead of over the way,
You may end by (think of it!) looking on We
As only a sort of They!

Have a peaceful holiday break. I look forward to keeping in touch next year.


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