Lessons from a conversation

The below has been doing the rounds for years now and I’ve seen it in many guises, but still has relevance to the way we interact with each other today. We can communicate much better than these 2 below, but how often do we? How often to we take the time to try and dig a little deeper to find the true, underlying intention? If the fellow in the balloon simply asked “I’m lost, can you help me get to X”, how (much) different would the conversation have been? More thoughts and questions after the conversation:

A man flying in a hot air balloon realises he’s lost. He lowers the balloon closer to the ground and spots a man in a field, so he shouts out, “Excuse me, can you please help me? I promised to return this balloon to its owner, but I don’t know where I am.

The man on the ground replies: “You are in a hot air balloon, hovering approximately 350 feet above sea level and 30 feet above this field. You are between 40 and 42 degrees north latitude, and between 58 and 60 degrees west longitude.

You must be an engineer“, says the balloonist.

I am“, replies the man on the ground. “How did you know?

Well“, says the balloonist, “everything you have told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I am still lost.

The man on the ground says to the balloonist “Well, then, you must be a manager.

I am“, replies the balloonist, “but how did you know?

“Well”, says the man, “you don’t know where you are or where you are going.  You have made a promise which you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. The fact is you are in the exact same position you were in before we met, but now it is somehow my fault.

The answer provided by the fellow on the ground was ‘technically’ accurate, but didn’t help the balloon fellow find his way back. I know it’s only a story, but I ask you how can we communicate with each other better than what we’re doing today?

  • I am sure story will resonate with many people, (especially those in the ‘corporate world’) but what can we learn from this?
  • Is it right to simply ‘answer’ every question as it’s asked?
  • Could these 2 parties work together better to solve the dilemma?

Let me know your thoughts on what this ‘conversation’ evokes in you.

3 thoughts on “Lessons from a conversation”

  1. What a great post Andrew.

    A wonderful example of how certain conversations are too complicated. If we simply said what we meant or needed first hand – how much more efficient would our days become, in our personal and professional lives?

    As Catherine suggested, half of the key is in formulating your question appropriately, with having regard for the person you are seeking information from as well as yourself.

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