As we were doing our research for Crucial Conversations, my son, Samuel, had a science fair project due. He said he wanted to study how little kids deal with crucial conversations.
I was not particularly encouraging. I said, “Samuel, I don’t think little kids have the same kind of social constraints as adults.”
As you probably guessed, his results surprised me!
His experiment led off with this question: We all know adults stink at talking about tough things, but how about little kids?
In his experiment, he’d let the children taste two different types of brownies and then tell him which brownie they preferred.
Here’s the catch — Samuel made one batch of brownies using salt (lots and lots of salt) instead of sugar. They tasted awful.
He wanted to see if the kids would tell the truth about the brownies, even if they thought it would hurt his feelings.
After he made the brownies, he brought in children of different ages and told them he wanted to compare ordinary brownies to his special brownies. He said it was his dearest grandmother’s special recipe — his dearest, dead grandmother’s special recipe!
Then he gave each child one dollar for their participation.
First, each child ate an ordinary brownie. Then, they ate the salt-filled brownie.
What do you think each child did? Would they tell Samuel the truth and possibly offend him?
Samuel asked each child to point to the brownie they preferred, and each one pointed to his special brownie to spare his feelings.
Even the children that visibly gagged when tasting his brownie said they preferred it over the ordinary brownie.
We even saw the younger children pointing to his brownie for fear of hurting his feelings!
Just to be sure they weren’t telling the truth, he went to the entire group after the experiment to hand out the leftover ‘special’ brownies, and not a single child took one.
I was absolutely blown away!
It blew my mind to see how, one after another, these kids — who with absolutely no other agenda — were coming in and lying about how they really felt.
It was staggering to realise at what a remarkable young age we start to draw a damnable conclusion.
It turns out, at about age three or four, we start to believe we frequently have to choose between telling the truth and keeping a friend.
This one, simple belief causes mischief for the rest of our lives.
Believing we must choose between telling the truth and keeping a friend is the controlling assumption that dictates how we show up in interpersonal situations.
This is why moments of disproportionate influence have such an enormous effect on our lives.