Ever take a wrong turn? How about one that takes you 16 miles out of your way? On foot?
Recently I was hiking with my son in the Superstition Mountains in Arizona (again, for those of you who’ve followed my adventures for a while). And as you might guess, I took a wrong turn on the trail and went 16 miles in the wrong direction, making my hike five hours longer than expected and nearly 22 miles in total. Oh . . . and my wrong turn deposited me on the opposite side of the mountain range.
Despite my family thinking I was lost, I knew exactly where I was throughout my additional five hours in the mountains. I was on trail #104, the Dutchman Trail. I need not point out the irony of it being named after the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine . . . because I wasn’t lost. (It’s also worth noting that people disappear and/or die in this mountain range on a regular basis.)
I had a small map of the area I was meant to hike, and it gave me a false sense of confidence for my first three or four miles in the wrong direction. Now, more than two hours off course (toward the middle of the range) and with no cellphone signal, I had a strong hunch I’d taken a wrong turn. I should have easily finished the hike by now. Without the context of the full map, I didn’t know if it was faster to continue through to the other side of the range (the Dutchman starts at one side of the range and comes out the other) or turn back and retrace my steps.
I opted for the former and marched forward with fortitude and speed. Over the next several hours, I contemplated what it would be like to spend the night on the mountain. Did I mention it was raining and cold?
When five o’clock rolled around I began to seriously get worried about my family. They would think I was lost, and they would be worried about me. The sun goes down at six o’clock this time of year and I had well over an hour to go to reach the other end of the trail.
Despite all of this, I didn’t feel lost. I certainly felt like I’d taken a wrong turn, but the Dutchman Trail is well marked (except for the place I took a wrong turn!) and I always knew I was on trail #104.
How I made sense of my situation (wrong turn) and how my family made sense of it (lost) were very different. We’d constructed different realities based on the information we had. The facts were all the same, but we had access to different facts, and consequently drew very different conclusions about them.
We all tend to construct reality through how we first interpret and then describe our world. And we take actions based on that reality. The reality I constructed (wrong turn), meant I had to double down to get off the mountain before dark (which I didn’t manage to do; I hiked the last 1.5 miles in total darkness). The reality my family constructed (lost), meant calling the sheriff’s office to arrange a search and rescue (not an overreaction, given the number of people who have died on the mountain).
How often does this happen at work? You and another person have access to many of the same facts about a situation, client or co-worker . . . and yet you draw very different conclusions.
This month on the blog, we continue this theme and explore the social construction of reality, how it leads to misunderstandings and how to develop more shared meaning instead.
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