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The Very Best Way to Get ‘Er Done May 23, 2010

Posted by Ann Bertorelli in Self-Development.
Tags: , , , ,


Last week I had a conversation with my granddaughter that got me thinking about how easy it is for things to go south when you’re working with another person. The example is a little roundabout but indulge me a bit, ok?

How do you eat an apple?

I was eating an apple the way I have always eaten an apple. I had it in my hand and was taking bites from the apple until it was gone. (Unlike many people though I eat the entire apple, core and all. A remnant from many days of dieting in which I wanted to eat everything I was allowed. And yes I know it’s weird but it’s what I do.)

My granddaughter watched me as I ate and then asked me a (to her) perfectly logical question, “Grammie, why are you eating the apple like that?” That stopped me for a moment. Hmmm, isn’t this the way everyone eats an apple, I thought. But then, since I am such a devoted grammie, I really thought about her question. Obviously she asked because she wanted to know. And then I got it. Five year olds don’t eat apples in that way—their mouths are too small to eat their way around an apple. Five-year-olds have their mommies (or daddies) cut the apple into slices so that they can eat each slice in a bite or two. While I still didn’t have a good answer to her question other than” That’s just the way I do it,” it did start me thinking about something called background of obviousness.

Our background of obviousness is part of us

Everyone has a unique background of obviousness that is made up of their experiences, conversations, training, and family culture, to name a few sources. And that background says that the way I do things is the way everyone does them—or at least the way they should. Only problem with that is that everyone’s background of obviousness (BOO) is different. And I bet if you thought a little bit you could come up with some disaster scenarios that have been created when you assumed (you know what they say about assuming, right?) that others were thinking and acting just the way you would in a situation.

However, so you don’t have to distract yourself by thinking of a situation, allow me to give you one to ponder.

Here’s an example

John Z is a manager in a small financial company. Because the company had been growing in staff he noticed that office space was becoming very scarce. People were sharing offices.  It was obvious to John that something had to be done to alleviate the situation.  No one could do their best work in such crowded space. Deciding to take the initiative John found out that there was some office space available two floors down in the building. After finding out the details of the lease possibilities John took the information to his boss, sure that he would be delighted with the information. Unfortunately his boss had not seen a problem with the existing set up and was angry that John had spoken to the leasing company without his agreement.  John’s relationship with his boss took a hit that day because they were both operating from two different BOOs.

Try becoming aware of your background of obviousness

Figuring out your own background of obviousness or at the very least realizing that you have one can enable you to avoid a lot of misunderstandings. So how does one do this? After all by definition, it’s in the background. You may not always get it right but the best way is to be open to the possibility that there are different interpretations to almost everything in life. So what you think should be perfectly obvious to everyone seldom is.

Take the position that you’re not always right

Try this for a week: Every time you find yourself getting frustrated with another person for being stupid, obtuse, uncooperative, or a PITA (not that you ever do), try taking a look at your own BOO and see what is causing your frustration. Once you come up with something, perhaps you might even take the time to have a conversation with that person in order to see what they see….Try it…You’ll be surprised at what you learn…And you might even get it done right the first time… And if you find this working, how about adopting it for a permanent practice?



1. devin - July 14, 2010

I like the concise names and phrases (terminology) you have used to define specific situations; finding the word gets right to the point without chaff.
I wonder if the tireless testing of others, because of one’s lack of awareness or BOO is to cause others to constantly consider, compensate for that lack of BOO.

edgyangel - July 14, 2010

Thanks for the comment, Devin, and I’m glad the terminology seemed clear to you. As to the second part of your comment, I offer that we all have lack of awareness at times of how we are landing with others but we never have a lack of BOO. We can’t shed our background of obviousness. It accompanies us no matter where we go–we can’t help it. What we can help, however, is forgetting that our BOO is not the only way of looking at things.To counter this I find it helpful to take a step back every now and again, especially when things break down, to figure out what got me there.

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