What is the white shirt people want to see?

Last week we had the pleasure of welcoming Adeyemi Babington-Ashaye and Chidiogo Akunyili from the World Economic Forum HQ to Tshwane as part of their regional tour. During our working lunch Yemi told a story that has really got me thinking about things in a slightly different way.

The story is set in Nigeria when Yemi was still a very young boy. Every morning his family would get dressed to leave home together for work and school. Most mornings Yemi would be dressed quicker than the rest and then he would then check up on everyone else to see how far they were. As he peeked into his mothers bedroom she would turn to look at him and then shout “Come on everybody, Yemi is ready!” But there were days when he didn’t have his shoes on when he peeked into his mothers room and she would still shout “Come on everybody, Yemi is ready!”

So he set to figuring out what would happen if he stood in the doorway with fewer and fewer pieces of clothing. After not wearing shoes, the next day he stood with neither shoes nor socks. To his surprise his mother still gave him a quick glance and shouted “Come on everybody, Yemi is ready!”
His experiment progressed until he stood wearing his pants but no shirt. His mother turned to him and shouted “Yemi, get dressed!”  And so he realized that if he was wearing his shirt, his mother would think that he was dressed and ready to leave.

Years later he recounted the story to his mother who laughed. She had not noticed his little experiment. She then explained that while she grew up it was customary for the man of the house to only put on his shirt, as he is about to leave, so that he does not crease or dirty it while at home. 

How do we use this story in our everyday relationships? Knowing what the most important things that are expected of us are helps us all to focus our time and energy. Delivering on what is expected will also increase trust and help us understand each other better.

Want to try out this concept? What do you think your “white shirt” is for the last person you had a conversation with?

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