My 5 year old son taught me geometry this week.

He keeps telling me that the cylinder is a 3D rectangle, and I keep saying it’s not. He’d say, “Yes! My teacher told me yes!” And I’d say, “I believe you, but it’s not. Maybe there’s more context? Maybe you heard her wrong?”

After a few laps back and forth, he cried and said, “I don’t think you want to be my mom anymore!”

I almost died.

How did he hear “I don’t want to be your mom anymore” in the gas cylinder debate? ! It feels bad, but it’s a good reminder that often what we say has no actual relationship to the tone and subtext behind it.

When I said, “I believed you, but it wasn’t. Maybe there was more context? Maybe you heard her wrong?” What he heard was:

# you are wrong. I’m right because I’m an adult and I know more.

# I don’t actually believe you, but I think I’m saying the right things to soothe your emotions.

After stopping the conversation and telling him I loved him and was happy to be his mom, nothing he did or said could change that, and I said, “Maybe I’m wrong.”


He goes to get a piece of paper (a rectangle) and rolls it up to make a cylinder. “Look, a rectangle becomes a 3D cylinder.”

I am speechless.

Luckily, my son felt safe enough to express his feelings to me, but how many times have we been in the exact same situation as everyone else and the disconnect isn’t that clear?

My job is to help Zapier customers figure out why something they build doesn’t work. When their emails arrive in my inbox, they are usually frustrated and annoyed by having to contact them. They may have tried to solve the problem themselves, contacting customer support is a last resort.

Zapier customers are really smart. They’re building complex workflows and often use apps that I’ve probably never used before. While solving a client’s problem is always the end goal, I know I’ll never be able to solve it if I don’t seek understanding first.

# What does the client want to accomplish?

# What assumptions depend on their ultimate goal?

# What needs to be done to succeed?

# Was this effective before? What has changed?

It is important to collect the context and confirm my understanding with the client.

After my son showed me what he meant, I apologized to him and told him that it was wrong for me to discredit him so quickly. I told him, “Sometimes everyone is wrong. Even your mother! I am proud of you insisting on what you think is right.” Although the cylinder is not exactly a 3D rectangle, we now have a common understanding.

I want to know if I can avoid the emotional roller coaster if I adopt the same strategy for the clients I work with. Instead of telling him that he was wrong and imposing my assumptions and experience on him, I could have become curious and say, “Tell me more.”