Carroll Shelby had to think fast.
There’s a great scene in “Ford vs. Ferrari,” the movie based on the true story of the legendary Ford Motors team who won the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France.
Shelby, a former race car driver turned automotive designer, is in a predicament: He needs to convince Ford CEO Henry Ford II to allow his friend and fellow racer, Ken Miles, to be the primary driver at Le Mans. (Shelby knows the team will need every advantage to beat Ferrari, who had won at Le Mans for six years in a row previous.)
The problem is, Ford and his lieutenants don’t really like Miles, who they didn’t see as a team player.
So, how could Shelby convince Ford that Miles would be the best man for the job?
Shelby took Ford on a little ride…
“You ready?” Shelby asks Ford.
“The name on the middle of that steering wheel should tell you that I was born ready Shelby,” responds Ford. “Hit it.”
As Shelby peels out in the prototype Ford GT40, Ford is literally pinned to his chair. He instinctively braces himself for potential impact by placing his hand on the dashboard.
Shelby continues to floor it, in a car capable of speeds over 218 mph (350 km/h). Ford becomes visibly distressed.
“Oh my God, oh my God!” Ford yells, his face violently contorting as Shelby takes each successive turn at high speed.
In the distance, accompanied by team engineer Phil Remington, Ford’s lieutenants are speechless as they look on. They can only imagine what’s going through their CEO’s mind as he hangs on for dear life.
“It’s about right now the uninitiated have a tendency to soil themselves,” Remington says, with a smirk.
Shelby continues his joyride for a while longer, narrowly missing huge cones, oil barrels–even another truck–before he ends the treacherous run by yanking the handbrake and bringing the car to a sudden, brutal stop via a perfect bootleg turn.
Ford sits, struggling to control his emotions. Suddenly, he breaks into tears.
“I had no idea,” he whimpers.
Although this example is extreme (and likely fictional, although I wouldn’t have put it past Shelby to have done this in real life), Shelby did convince Ford to let Miles race at Le Mans. The story also demonstrates a major lesson in emotional intelligence, the ability to understand and manage emotional behavior.
It all starts with something called “the perspective gap.”
What’s the perspective gap?
The perspective gap (also known as an empathy gap) is a common occurrence in which one dramatically underestimates the effects of a psychologically or physically intense situation.
Usually, we think we understand a certain set of circumstance–even if we’ve never experienced them–but we really have no idea. Other times, we’ve actually experienced something similar to what another person is describing, but the way we remember handling the situation is much better than we actually did.
The perspective gap explains why physicians consistently miss the mark when attempting to estimate their patients’ level of pain, or why we find it so challenging to put ourselves in the shoes of a colleague, or even a family member.
It’s also why Ford, who had already given Shelby the green light in putting together the company’s racing team, still needed extra convincing.
But what can this scene teach us about the perspective gap?
Don’t be like Ford.
There are likely people at work right now who are trying hard to get you to understand the problems they’re facing. They’re trying to get your support.
It’s easy to dismiss those people with expressions like:
It’s not that big of a deal.
You’re making a mountain out of a molehill.
If you want to build trust and stronger relationships…stop it.
Instead, bridge the gap. Try to see things from their perspective.
In other words, if it’s important to them, make it important to you.
Be like Shelby.
But what if you’re in the opposite situation?
What if you’re trying to garner support from a colleague, your team (or even a family member)–and they’re just not getting it?
Remember, even if they’ve gone through a similar experience to you (and especially if they haven’t), they’re not likely to empathize with you. There’s going to be a perspective gap.
But you don’t have to give up.
Instead of telling them the challenges your facing, help them to feel those challenges themselves.
You can do that by first identifying your own feelings: Are you frustrated? Angry? Disappointed? Sad?
Now, ask your colleague to describe a situation that makes them feel frustrated, angry, disappointed, or sad.
Now, you’re helping them to connect, not to your situation…but to your feelings. You’ve helped them to relate.
You’ve helped them to build empathy.
If you can accomplish that, you’ll have a partner whose invested. Your problem has become their problem.
Learning to bridge the perspective gap is how you can build great teams, and companies. It’s how you learn to solve problems together.
And it makes for a great movie scene, too.
(If you enjoy the lessons in this article, be sure to sign up for my free emotional intelligence course, where each day for 10 days you get a similar rule designed to help you make emotions work for you, instead of against you.)