Blog & Insight

There are three versions of any story

Which of these images is a true reflection of reality?

This isn’t as strange a question as you might think when you consider we’re looking at the world every day, making a choice about our reality, and then acting as if we’re right.

These images were taken to demonstrate a few of the different perspectives available for the landscape near my home here in Scotland.

Each image shown is an accurate reflection of that view on that day, even if not necessarily an accurate representation of the whole landscape. Nor representative of it at other times of day, season or weather.


A few years ago someone was getting very angry on the radio when they were being interviewed by Jeremy Vine on Radio 2 here in the UK.

The pity is I stopped listening to what she was saying. She may have had some very valid points and even been able to persuade us all of her opinion but a number of things certainly stopped me being open to hear what she was saying:

  • Her angry tone
  • Her belief that she was right 
  • Her belief that anyone with an alternate opinion was wrong
  • Her belief that if you didn't agree with her that telling you all over again would change that
  • Her desire to prove she was right 
  • Her inability to see other's points of view
  • Her failure to acknowledge she'd heard what has been said by others
  • Her inability to change the style of communication being used

I know we all have bad days but she was failing to recognise that not everyone sees the world as she does. A subtle change in her beliefs and behaviours may have enabled her to convey her message and even influence others more effectively.


One belief that I've found personally to be useful is 'the map is not the territory.'

No not useful - essential.

When I came back from a Neuro Linguistic Programming workshop over 20 years ago, and applied what I'm about to share with you, one stakeholder said I was easier to deal with. Whilst there was I thinking she was easier to deal with.

In reality all I'd done was find different ways of communicating that allowed me to hear and be heard.

Because dear reader I was once so like the lady on the radio.

Here's the crux of the situation. We often act as if our map, or internal representation, of the world is a true representation of the world.

The problem is we've taken a 3 dimensional, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, 7 billion people, complex world with lots going on every second and tried to condense it in easy to remember bite sizes. Things can't, therefore, help but get deleted, distorted or generalised as a result.

If I buy a map for driving then I may be forgiven for thinking that footpaths don't exist. However if I buy a map for use when walking then the same area looks very different - the detail provided is different.

It's not that either map is wrong just looking at the world with different filters.

And each of us has different filters we use that determines what we pay attention to - beliefs, memories, preferences etc.

The problem arises when we act as if the map we have about our world (our internal representation) is the truth and forget that we'll have deleted, distorted or generalised in order to condense the infinite amount of info available to us.

Remembering this simple fact - that the map is not the territory - would shift the above beliefs and behaviours to

  • Use of a more considered tone
  • A belief that hers is only an opinion or belief neither right or wrong
  • A belief that the other person's viewpoint is similarly only an opinion or belief and again neither right nor wrong
  • An understanding that if she expresses her opinion clearly with reference to the other person's opinion she only has to say so once 
  • A desire to understand all viewpoints
  • An acknowledgement of other opinions
  • Flexed style of communication 

The interesting thing was the women was ringing to support an MP who had been ridiculed in Parliament for demonstrating many of the same characteristics I heard her demonstrate. I've also written a post about how we see ourselves in others.

Remember there's three versions of any story - yours, theirs and the truth.


Do get in touch if you'd like to discuss how to share this insight and others I've learnt that have significantly improved my relationship with, communication to and influencing of others [email protected]


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© Alison Smith
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