Imagine a thick, strong plank of wood – 30cm wide and 10m long.
Can you walk along that plank without falling off?
If it’s lying on the floor – sure. That’s pretty easy. A dozen steps is all it takes. All of us could manage that.
What if we suspend the plank between two chairs, so it’s 50cm off the ground? Ok, that’s a little trickier … some of us would manage, some might not – but we’d all find it more challenging.
What if we suspend the plank between two buildings? Mmm … very few of us would even contemplate that walk.
In these three examples, the task – walking a dozen steps along a plank – hasn’t changed. But the situation has.
This happened a lot in my drumming career. Nailed it in the rehearsal room … but out on stage, with an audience watching? That could be a very different story!
It affects soft skill development too. We may have been practicing hard with our listening and patience, but the situation [i.e. the other person] has an impact on our effectiveness.
Motivation also makes a difference. Going back to the plank between two buildings … you’re on one side … on the other is a buggy with a crying baby. A fire rages around her, getting closer by the second. Do you risk those dozen steps now? Of course you do – you probably don’t even hesitate. [And I bet you’d make it back too].
Whether it’s with ourselves or others, we need to understand that it’s not just about our skills. The situation matters.