The Toilet Seat, Crossed Wires and A Secret To Leadership

Something happened in my toilet once that shocked me deeply, and taught me a valuable lesson about life, relationships, and leadership. How could I have been so blind? Beware though- this is an ‘adults only’ Possums episode, with unsavory photographs. Read on at your own risk. My promise- the reward is profound.

“Put the toilet seat down!!!!” she screamed at me for the 20th time that week, and third time that day. I was livid. “You must be in La La land you crazy person- I HAVE and DO put it down and you have quite simply gone mad.” “ME? ME??? You’re the lazy, inconsiderate, uncouth animal who does not have even the most basic manners or respect to do the right thing. It’s disgraceful,  I have had ENOUGHHHHHHH!!!!”

And so had I. “Ok- look here and watch this,” I snarled, standing over the seat. “Let me demonstrate, once and for all.” I did, and then suddenly realized the massive mistake I had been making. It’s a lesson in life and leadership worth knowing- and here it is.

“Toilet seat is up. Agree?” I asked. She agreed.

“And now,” I exclaimed in triumph, “Toilet seat is down!!! Agree?” (see below).

“NO!!!!!,” she replied. “THIS is toilet seat down.” (see below).

The Message For Life And For Leadership

I was totally stunned. All those years I thought I had been doing the right thing, and all that time I was way off the mark. But I never knew. I never realized. Such a simple misunderstanding. So much angst and lonely nights on the couch.

Remember- always- seek to understand before trying to be understood.

That’s the key. Whether in life or in business, as a leader or as a subordinate, really try to understand the other person’s point of view and perspective as thoroughly as you can before judging, or trying to drive through a solution.

When you have dispute, conflict, or a relationship that is misfiring, stop a moment and reflect: ”If I was that person, how would I be feeling about this? Why would I feel that way? What would my perspective be? And what are my needs?” If you have the courage, ask them. Probe. Work hard to get that clarity. Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.

You’re then in a much better position to couch your approach in a way that minimizes conflict, can meet the other person’s needs and ultimately give you what you need. Sometimes you then need to ‘Bait the hook to suit the fish’, but at least you know what the fish likes to eat.

The misunderstanding over the toilet seat lasted 15 years. Finally, I probed and saw things from her point of view. If only I had paused a moment to clarify exactly what success looked like.

I want to clarify one very important point. My Possums posts are filled with ideas and would-be wisdom about life and leadership. But I do not pretend for a moment that I actually behave that way all the time. Point is- we are not all perfect and even when we know the right way, often do the opposite. Critique your days. Give yourself robust feedback. Take the feedback that comes your way. Keep working on yourself so you have more good days than bad. That’s the key I guess.

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22 Responses to The Toilet Seat, Crossed Wires and A Secret To Leadership

  1. Aryeh Sternberg August 29, 2012 at 9:26 am #

    Good post Chris, a mistake we of the male gender often are caught up in. My 3rd grade art teacher taught me a very wise three word mantra that I have ingrained into life that mirrors the advisory you gave, she told us to “Stop, look, and listen” every now and then, whether we were uncertain how to move forward or even when we were barreling ahead, because sometimes we’re missing something that is as simple as a misunderstanding between what “up” and “down” mean.

    • Chris Savage August 29, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

      Thanks Aryeh- well said.

  2. Kelvin August 29, 2012 at 9:29 am #

    words of wisdom. A great analogy of a simple task but much men and leaders have misunderstood for years…

    Perhaps we can get off the couch and come back into the bedroom.

    • Chris Savage August 29, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

      Kelvin- wishful thinking I’m afraid!

  3. kamal August 29, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    Hi Chris
    Very cool and very true

    We live life with so many filters on and I think the purpose of communication is navigating those filters

    great post

    • Chris Savage August 29, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

      Thanks Kamal. Appreciate the feedback. Chris

  4. Gary August 29, 2012 at 9:57 am #

    Thanks Chris your posts continue to inspire the creation and evolution of the ‘brand of me’

    Keep it up!

    • Chris Savage August 29, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

      Thanks Gary!

  5. Tony Spencer-Smith August 29, 2012 at 10:26 am #

    My Chris, you do draw your inspiration from strange sources! But how true that communication is central to life and leadership. Words make us human. And well-chosen words can move mountains.

    • Chris Savage August 29, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

      Thanks Tony!

  6. Carla Vanner August 29, 2012 at 11:03 am #

    That is Possum Gold. CV

    • Chris Savage August 29, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

      Thanks Carla!

  7. Hannah August 29, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    I agree with you! I thought that the second picture was the Toilet seat down, because the 3rd picture is actually the toilet LID down!

    • Chris Savage August 29, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

      Indeed- but too many people think the lid is the seat. That’s the mistake I made. I should have clarified!

  8. MC Hammer August 29, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

    Clearly you only remember this lesson sporadically.

    • Chris Savage August 29, 2012 at 5:44 pm #

      Oh MC Hammer- so good to hear from you again.

  9. Carl Sherriff August 29, 2012 at 4:38 pm #

    Great analogy (no pun intended) Chris, thanks. Did you flush before ‘down’?

  10. Susan Redden Makatoa August 30, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    I think you’re on to something here Chris…I can see you making millions with your book “Seat up? Seat Down”. Watch out John Gray!

  11. Dale Rhodes August 31, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    Hi Chris – great object lesson in the perils of day-to-day miscommunication. I’ve heard it said that you’re not listening to someone else’s point of view until you can put yourself in their shoes and actually agree with them – from their point of view.
    I think it’s one of the most critical aspects of selling good creative – if you actually get the concerns they often evaporate.
    By the way, I think you should share your post as much as you can – more widely disseminated I’m convinced it would noticeably diminish divorce rates!

    • Chris Savage August 31, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

      Thanks Dale!

  12. Craig Badings September 14, 2012 at 9:28 am #

    Chris so true. And one of the keys to your tale is being a good listener. Here is a very interesting post about listening from and expert on the subject. It is from a business perspective but can be applied across our personal lives as well. It’s entitled the executives guide to better listening:

    • Chris Savage September 14, 2012 at 11:57 am #

      Thanks Craig- I wish I had been a better listener through my career and life. I have always talked too much.

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