Small changes make a big difference Part 2 – Cherishing

In the past the skill of cherishing was called ‘people skills’, now it is called ’emotional intelligence’ in most organisations and it has even been called ‘social-emotional agility’. Whatever label is attached, the need for cherishing is only growing. In the past we used to work locally, only dealing with the people around us in the workplace, most of which were the same socio-economic group as us, and as a result we knew how to think and influence them.

Small Changes make a big difference – Cherishing

The last blog post was about the first trait that successful people need of Awe.  Today I am going to talk about Cherishing which is the second trait of successful people.

Rob Yeung says that Cherishing is a flair for rapport building, for building relationships with other people.  High achievers are usually great at listening to others, considering their perspectives and empathising with them; they are respectful of the differences between people and seek emotional connections or personal bonds rather than just making demands for what they want.

In the past the skill of cherishing was called ‘people skills’, now it is called ’emotional intelligence’ in most organisations and it has even been called ‘social-emotional agility’.  Whatever label is attached, the need for cherishing is only growing.  In the past we used to work locally, only dealing with the people around us in the workplace, most of which were the same socio-economic group as us, and as a result we knew how to think and influence them.

Nowadays with globalisation and internet working etc the most talented and ambitious people are increasingly crossing geographic and cultural boundaries in search of the best opportunities we find ourselves living and working in ever diverse communities.  We can’t expect that a 20 year old Russian student, 73 year old Scottish Grandmother or a 55 year old Indian entrepreneur will think the same way as we do when we work with them or live with them.  If we want them to influence them, get them to buy from us or simply live in harmony, we cannot take for granted many of the social conventions and rules we’re used to.

One of the experiments Rob Yeung talks about is the Puzzle of the ball in the box.

Imagine that you are asked to look after a young couple’s children, and once you are agree you are told please strip all the furniture out of the room that the children will be playing in and leave only a cardboard box, a plastic bucket and a rubber ball.

Moments later the children, we will call them Amy and Billy rush into play with the ball passing it backwards and forwards and kicking it around.  After a few minutes, Amy says she is thirsty.  You tell her you poured them both some lemonade in the kitchen.  Billy says he does not want any at the moment, so Amy puts the ball in the box before running off to the kitchen to get a drink.  While she is out in the kitchen Billy takes the ball and drops it in the bucket before his sister gets back.

So here is a question for you: when Amy returns from the kitchen, where will she look for the ball? Clearly it is not a big question for you.  But consider instead if you were to ask Billy; ‘Where do you think Amy will look for the ball?’ What would he tell you?

It is a bit of a trick question. The answer depends on Billy’s age.

Most three year olds can’t distinguish between what they know and what other people know.  So a three year old Billy, knowing that the ball is in the bucket, would guess wrongly and say that Amy would look int the bucket too.  He never considers that what he knows and what other people know could be different.

However by the age of four or five most children begin to grasp that other people can have different thoughts and beliefs.  So a five year old Billy would probably answer that Amy would look for the ball in the box where she had originally left it.  Older and wiser he is able to separate what he knows from Amy’s lack of knowledge, her false belief about the ball’s location.

The ability to understand that other people can have knowledge that differs from our own has been ‘dubbed’ a ‘Theory of Mind’ by psychologists – it is considered a theory in as much that the concept of the mind isn’t something that we can observe directly.  We can’t see other people’s minds, touch them, or examine them until we are satisfied that other people definitely have them.

Growing up as children we gradually became aware that we had thoughts, feelings and knowledge that other people didn’t always know about. Then, by watching the behaviour of the people around us, we came to realise that other people must have thoughts, feelings and knowledge – in other words minds – like us too.

As grown ups, we possess the mental capacity to take another person’s perspective and consider their thoughts and feelings.  So surely we wouldn’t make the same mistakes as children, right?


There is such a thing as the curse of knowledge and experiment that has been done to show this is:

This experiment is set up as a two person game.

A 4 by 4 array of pigeonholes is set up as below but with physical items instead of symbols.  Note there are two black spades and that five of the boxes have backs on them.

 ϒ  ∏
 ♠  ò  ∑
 ⊂  ♠

The researcher sits one person on the front of the pigeonhole set up so they can see everything and the other person is blindfolded before they walk into the room and set up behind the pigeonholes so they can not see everything.

The person behind the pigeonholes is made to give instructions to the person in front of the pigeon holes on how to move the objects around the grid. Sounds straight forward enough and so the experiment begins.

The person behind, we will call her Lisa says to the person in front, we will say you move the triangle one space to my left.  Remembering that her left is your right, you move the triangle one space to your right.

Move the Y one space to my left. easy enough. you move the object represented by Y.

Now move the black spade up one space.

Which black spade? There are two. But then you recall that Lisa was blindfolded and cannot know about the second black spade, and the realisation hits you. You have figured out the twist in the experiment. The researcher wants to test whether you will reach for the black spade that both you and Lisa can see or the one that only you can see.

When researcher Boaz Keysar at the University of Chicago used an almost identical version of the test, he found that 30% of the participants attempted to move the wrong item.  When he repeated it three more times he found that 71%of the participants reached for the incorrect item at least once.  In other words, more than two in three people forgot that they had information that differed from that of their experimental partners.

The stronger our views and opinions, the less likely we are to put ourselves into the shoes of other people. The more we know or the more strongly we believe , the harder we find it to consider the perspectives of other people.  For instance most law-abiding citizens can’t imagine why a gang would vandalise a communal park or why adults can’t conceive why kids want to dress themselves in such ridiculous fashions.

Another aspect of Cherishing is being able to think about other people’s thoughts or perspective taking.  This is the ability to take the perspective of the person you are negotiating with, trying to understand what they are thinking and what their interests and purposes are in this negotiation.

An experiment which showed this in action was done with a group of MBA students.  The students were divided into pairs.  One person took the role of an employer looking to hire a candidate but wanting to broker the best deal for the organisation and the other person assumed the role of the candidate, wanting to get the best salary and benefit package.

Two minutes prior to beginning the negotiation exercise participants acting as the employer were split into three groups, an empathy group, where employers were told to imagine what it would feel like to be in the situation of the candidate, a perspective taking group, where employers were told to focus on what the candidate would be thinking about and a control group that were given no further instructions.

The key difference between the sets of instructions was subtle but the effects were not.  In the control group only 12% of the pairs achieved the best possible win-win outcomes.  The Empathy group 22% achieved win-win outcomes and in the perspective group 40% achieved win-win outcomes.

From this we can conclude that empathy has benefits when dealing with others but hands down the best approach is to think like the person on the other side of the negotiation.

Putting ourselves in the shoes of other people can help us to build rapport and understanding, but to cement those bonds we need to accept that more than one point of view isn’t just possible but likely.  When dealing with other people, we can enrich a discussion by exploring how opposing perspectives can be united rather than fought over.

We must learn to accept that, whatever our views and those of the people around us, we may all be right – even when those views seem to clash. The point: even though we may talk about understanding other people’s perspectives, we often fall into the trap of only engaging with those views in a fairly shallow way.  We may be looking for flaws in their arguments to prove us right and them wrong.  However that is not the approach that exceptional people take.  They look for ways in which we can all be right.

An example of this is approaching an employee who seems to be late for all internal meetings with the question ‘Penny, you and I seem to have different priorities when it comes to internal meetings – can we talk about it please?.’  Raising the issue from the third perspective is always the least threatening, most productive way to kick off any such conversation.

The best way to understand someone’s perspective is to listen to them. listening is not just a case of asking people questions and expecting them to share their innermost thoughts and feelings, their motivations and desires.  We need to make people feel comfortable that we are not going to judge them and try immediately to change their minds.  We can’t jump in to interrupt no matter how wrong we feel they are.  To gain true insight, we must be patient and give people a totally safe environment in which to speak.

To conclude Cherishing is a flair for building rapport and relationships with other people by understanding their perspectives, their thoughts and feelings.

We all have the ability to cherish other people, it is just that we may forget to turn it on. Consider the small changes you could make to have a big impact on your relationships.

Small changes make a big difference – Cherishing

Consider the small changes you could make to have a big impact on your relationships:

  • Being able to see the world from the perspective of other people, to listen to them and understand them, is a vital human skill.  Find ways to remind yourself of the need to understand both the thoughts and feelings of other people
  • Be constantly on the lookout for the ‘Curse of Knowledge’. The more we know, the harder we find it to put ourselves into the shoes of other people, which becomes an interesting challenge for experts or people in senior roles or positions of authority.
  • Research shows that even a quick reminder to consider others’ thoughts can have huge benefits in our interactions with them. Find a way that works for you and make sure you ‘Switch on”  your ‘Theory of mind’ ability.
  • Exceptional People accept that different people can have opposing views yet still be ‘right’.  Focus on both/and thinking rather than an either /or choice.  Look for ways to combine your viewpoints with those of others.

If you like what you are reading here please feel free to share.  Please comment below and leave me comments about ways you can cherish people.

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Have a great day

Please note this blog contains excerpts from the book I am talking about here "The Extra One Percent - how small changes make exceptional people" by Rob Yeung.