Wisdom from a 3rd Grader: “Boxes, Lockers and Islands”

Too often we fall into the trap of looking at everyone through the same lens. No surprise that our dealings with them don’t always turn out as we wish. This lens we use is normally the one we’ve constructed for ourselves. How we look at things is how we expect everyone else to.

I originally wrote this post eight years ago. I figured it would be a good time to dust it off and give it some light in today’s world.

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I follow Sarah Hodsdon on Twitter. She’s a mixed media artist, author, DIY female McGyver and works in a bat cave … or at least that what her bio says. Maybe she does? Who am I to say. But what she really does is tweet about what her kids say – ages 7, 9 and 10.

I learn more from these three everyday by 8:00 am, than I do from all the gurus, experts and rockstars I follow all day. Their gift is to take complex sociological issues and boil them down in simple terms. We get to see the world through their eyes. The clarity they have, well … we could only hope for.

Well this me got thinking about when my daughter, Alexandria, was seven. Alex and I were living in Tiburon in northern California. At the time I was recruiting and living near and I was having difficulty communicating with a someone who was close to both Alex and I. Alex was in the middle of it. She told me how she dealt with the bone-headedness (her word not mine). “You can’t think she’s like the people you work with.”

Alex has always been a master of metaphors. And this time was no different. She divided people up into “types.” Each of these types were described according to how their brains worked (the big words are mine, but the descriptions still apply).

  • Boxes – with closed lids: Members of this archetype organized ideas and thoughts in large groups. They had lots of different types of thoughts in single boxes, and they could easily put them together. These people had more than one box. They could jump from one box to another, but not without effort. Also sometimes they moved their stuff from box to box. The close lids, however, made it kind of hard to do that; thus switching cerebral gears. She said most people we dealt with had “Boxes – with closed lids.”
  • Boxes – with open lids: This is pretty much like the “Boxes – with closed lids,” except that the person could move between boxes (e.g. Meta thought groups) easily. She said these people can be kind of hard to follow though. It took practice to see the connections they they were trying to make. Alex said I have “Boxes – with open lids.”
  • Lockers: People with lockers were organized: and they had multiple lockers.  Everything was segmented and in its place, more so than “Boxes.” People with “Lockers” were perfectionists and didn’t jump to quick decisions unless it was a micro-decision and all relevant input was contained in that locker. It just took a while to open the lockers. Alex had “Lockers.” As she’s gotten older though, I think she’s evolved to “Boxes – with open lids.”
  • Islands: People with “Islands” existed in their own myopic cerebral world. “If you are on an island how are going to be exposed to what other people are thinking?” Empathy seldom is a priority – if even possible. There might be other islands out there that they can see … but if they can’t swim or don’t want to learn – they’re stuck in their own world; on their own island. The person in question I was having problems with had “Islands.” And as Alex said, “and she’s not leaving her island anytime soon.” We  just had to deal with her that way.

Islands

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Now, let’s come back to 2011. There’s a million books on relationships and how to communicate with people. But it all comes down to realizing that people are different and all our brains work differently. Whether they have boxes, lockers or islands, you just have adapt your communication style accordingly if you want to get your point across. What works for you, doesn’t necessarily work for them. And you can’t really change them. You just have to figure out how they use their brain.
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But then again, there’s always help … maybe there’s 3rd Grader available.

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