Not the Pencil, It’s the Window: A Story-bite that Leads to Deeper Understanding

windowless cubicle2In the midst of a chaotic episode of office politics, my boss said to me, “Jean, you need to understand, it’s not the pencil, it’s the window.” As I stood puzzled, she explained the story. Eva and Ron were peers in a company, but Eva had a cubicle with a window. If this wasn’t enough, Ron also felt that Eva got more attention and privileges from their boss. One day, Tom sat down in Ron’s cubicle to discuss a business issue. As they became engrossed in the topic, Tom picked up a pencil from his desk, used it, and absent-mindedly walked off with it. Later that day, the same thing happened with Eva. Ron blew up, “Leave it to you to steal my pencil.” The moral of the story: It’s not the pencil, but the window. 

I have leveraged this story many times throughout my career and life to help me redirect my reaction when someone’s behavior is out of context for the situation. I stop and ask myself, “What’s the window?” I may not know what it is at first, but at least I’m steering in the right direction for insights and understanding. When the window comes into focus, I am usually better able to address the real challenge.

How can this “story-bite” quickly help you, your clients, or your team think about a relationship challenge differently? In the workplace, many situations unfold when the “window” question can foster better collaboration and stakeholder alignment. In health education and counseling settings, this “story-bite” can help clients manage stress relationships and gain the support they need to make lifestyle changes.

I am starting a new series of posts that share examples of how “story-bites”can reframe and redirect problem solving for you and your teams. Look for more to come over the next several weeks. If you have examples of your own, I’d love to hear from you!


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