Positively Transform Your Relationship with One Simple Question

An instructor at a business school engaged his class in an activity in which half the class was given a picture of an elderly woman and the other half was given a picture of a young woman.  He instructed them to concentrate on the photo they were handed for 10 seconds and then pass the photos to the front of the class.  He then placed the following photo on the projector for the whole class to observe.


He asked the students to explain to each other what they saw in the picture.  It didn’t take long for an argument to arise in the classroom.

A student on one side of the room blurted out that he saw an old lady.   “What do you mean, ‘old lady’? She couldn’t be more than 20 or 22 years old!”

“What’s the matter with you?  Are you blind?  This lady is young, good looking…She’s lovely.”

“Lovely?  She’s an old hag.” (1)

Of course, as you may have figured out by now, the photo is a popular optical illusion.  In this instance, each person in the classroom was looking at the exact same photo, disagreed about what was in the photo, and yet both arguments were completely right.  One side of the classroom honestly saw an elderly woman in the photo, while the other just as adamantly saw a young woman.  Both were right.

In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Stephen Covey used this story to explain that “…two people can see the same thing, disagree, and yet both be right.  It’s not logical; it’s psychological.”

This is a lesson of perspective.  The side of the classroom that spent 10 seconds concentrating on a photo of an elderly woman, was primed to see an old lady in the photo on the projector.  And the same with those on the opposite side of the room who viewed a picture of a young  woman before seeing the image on the projector.  

Our earlier life experiences prime our current perspectives.

This is why so many relationship conflicts (especially in marriage) consist of each party feeling completely justified in their position and never able to see eye to eye.  The problem is that they are only seeing their perspective, and failing to see from the perspective of the other.  

A key to a happy and successful marriage is putting forth more energy toward seeking to understand the other rather than straining for the other to understand you.  Only then will you be able to have a productive conversation in the midst of conflict.

So how do we do this?  It begins with asking yourself a very simple question, “How would I feel if I were him/her?”  This is the same concept as putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.  This question will lead you to consider the other person’s feelings, past experiences, and perspective, and eventually will lead to increased compassion.  Even if you still disagree, you can at least have a better understanding of where they are coming from and why they may feel the way they do.  This is a first step in clearing up misunderstandings as quickly as possible and may prevent further unnecessary hurt feelings.


1. This story was obtained from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey