A Lesson in Perspective Taking

Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter, September 2019

Understanding the perspective of others is an important skill both in and outside of the workplace. My client Caleb learned a lesson about perspective taking when he was less than 2 weeks into his new job.

He had been hired at a hardware store and his primary duty was to keep the shelves orderly and well-stocked with merchandise. Some of the shelves were too high for him to reach from the ground, and he was instructed to use a ladder when working in those areas.

Caleb had difficulty maneuvering the large, heavy ladder from the storage room to the sales floor. As hard as he tried, inevitably the ladder would bump into displays, causing merchandise to fall. At the work area, he struggled to unfold the ladder and lock it into place. When the job was finished, Caleb had to wrestle the ladder back to the storage room.

At the end of his first week, Caleb realized that if he stood on the edge of the second shelf he could reach the top tier. The ladder problem was solved!

Unfortunately, Caleb’s delight was short-lived. When his manager, Bob, saw Caleb, he told him to get down. Bob explained that standing on a shelf was a safety risk, and that Caleb had to use the ladder. But rather than comply, Caleb began justifying why he should be able to stand on the shelf. He mentioned the ladder bumping into displays, and the time he spent carrying it to and from the storage room. Caleb assured Bob that he would not fall.

“I understand that the ladder makes extra work,” Bob said, “but this is a safety rule. All employees are required to follow it. Understand?”

Caleb shook his head “yes,” but thought to himself that his manager was wrong. His way was easier and more efficient. So the next time he needed to access the top shelves, Caleb stood on the shelf.

When Bob noticed, he confronted Caleb with an annoyed voice.

“We discussed this last week. You have to use a ladder, Caleb. If you fall, you could not only get a serious injury, but the store could be fined. We could also have problems with our insurance.”

“But I’m not going to fall!” Caleb exclaimed.

“Caleb, this is the rule, and if you don’t follow it I will have no choice but to fire you,” Bob said.

For the rest of the day, Caleb avoided arranging or stocking items on the high shelves. That evening, he described the situation to me during a coaching session.

The error that Caleb made was considering the situation from his perspective only. He had a hard time believing that another person could see things differently. We spent considerable time discussing the context of the situation, a different person’s perspective, and what behavior would be expected.

For example, Caleb’s take on the situation was that using the ladder was difficult and inefficient. But when we explored the bigger picture, a shift happened. Caleb saw that his manager was responsible for the performance and safety of employees who reported to him. Everyone had to follow the rules.

“What do you think would happen if Bob allowed employees to break the safety rules?” I asked.

After thinking for a few moments, Caleb responded, “I guess Bob could lose his job.”

We discussed how all businesses are responsible for enforcing policies to keep workers safe.

I also asked Caleb to think about the message he was sending when he challenged Bob’s instructions. He realized that he was being disrespectful.

“What if you were the manager and employees didn’t do what you asked?”

“I’d be mad,” Caleb admitted.

The next day, Caleb apologized to Bob, and promised that he would use the ladder. Bob offered to help Caleb carry it back and forth to the storage room.

Caleb continued working on understanding expectations within the workplace, and several months later won the “employee of the month” award at the hardware store.

Copyright 2019, Barbara Bissonnette, Forward Motion Coaching