Understanding different perspectives< Back to Blog
Recently, one of our team was sitting in a public place when she overhead two elderly ladies discussing the numbers of people coming to the UK, how they get benefits and don’t make a contribution in tax (in other words having a right old moan about immigration).
The funny thing is that, having emigrated to this country a long time ago, another member of our team described the way the elderly ladies ‘back home’ talk about the same subject. In their case they’re not usually heard moaning but rather crying about the way their son or daughter had to move so far away from them in order to work and live a better life.
Before we continue with this week’s blog, let’s just be clear about something; we’re not trying to spark a debate about immigration here. There are plenty of other places where you can do that if you want to, but it occurred to us that this was a clear example of how the same situation, when looked at from varying perspectives, looks very different.
So, what is perspective?
Perspective is the way any individual views the world. It comes from their personal point of view and is shaped by their life experiences, values, current state of mind, the assumptions they bring into a situation and much more.
The important thing to remember is that your own perspective is just one version of an event or situation – your own point of view and not the same thing as the ‘reality’ of that event.
Why is understanding other perspectives important?
If you only ever accept your own perspective as ‘reality’, you’re likely to become narrow or single-minded and can be seen as someone who is arrogant or dismissive around other people.
More importantly, when it comes to business relationships, the limitations of a one-perspective approach can hinder the way a business performs, stopping things like creativity and the generation of good ideas in their tracks and leading to poor decision making.
The good news is that we’re all capable of recognising and understanding the perspectives of other people and when we build this into our everyday working practises that can lead to us making much more informed decisions, better problem solving, enhanced working relationships, more effective communication between colleagues and greater innovation.
How to do it better
Empathy (the act of trying to understand something from another person’s point of view) comes naturally to some people but less so to others. If you want to get better at it, here’s a few pointers:
Get to know people
The best way to understand another person’s perspective is pretty simple really – take some time to get to know them. Find out where they come from, what experience they have, what interests them and what life stories may have led them to become the people they are today.
Okay you don’t have to do this all in one sitting but now and then be curious about the people you work with. The information you gather will really help you to see where their viewpoint comes from and keep communication moving forward efficiently.
Regulate your emotions
Recognise that, alongside your own perspective, you are often ruled by your own emotions. To truly understand someone else’s perspective you have to take charge of and regulate your emotional response. The other person’s perspective might be very different from yours but that’s not necessarily a good reason to dislike them for it!
In fact, becoming more aware of your own emotional response to something will probably help you to read other people better. Unconsciously you probably often track other people’s behaviours, trying to work out what they are thinking, feeling or planning. Being sensitive to your own emotions can help you with this – providing a gut instinct about someone’s intentions for example. Don’t rely on entirely on intuition to understand another person’s perspective, however – you could be wrong!
One of the most common areas of frustration in a business environment is poor communication. The problem is that people often speak indirectly and fail to communicate clearly what they really mean. This creates a lot of room for misinterpretation, especially if it’s done through text or email.
Most conflictual situations arise from this type of misinterpretation so the key to success is this: if you’re not clear what the other person is trying to say, seek clarification. Once you understand the other person’s needs and ideas, you can then figure out whether/how your own view could compliment or add to the team effort, rather than to detract from it.
Demonstrating disregard or disrespect towards another person’s view is the quickest path to upsetting your colleague, associate or boss!
It’s really important to keep in mind that not everyone will share your personal view and be respectful to what others believe when you relate to them. As much as this means knowing what the right thing to say is, it also means knowing what not to say! This makes communication complicated, but developing an approach where you can put yourself aside so as to be respectful of the other person will make your relationships with other people more productive and keep you open-minded about new ideas.
Invite the right people to the table.
When making business decisions, leaders often invite only a select few people to the table – the management team perhaps – but these may not really be the best people for that particular conversation.
So, before you decide who’s going to be part of a meeting or discussion, consider the subject matter, what decisions need to be made and who those decisions will impact. Then, setting hierarchies aside, seek input from the most appropriate people (at various levels) and be sure to actively take these alternative perspectives into account before finalising a decision.
Abandon ‘right and wrong’
When it comes to some subjects there’s clear data which tells you the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to go but, in many cases, decisions have to be based on subjective evidence or opinions. In these instances, it’s important to be open to suggestions and ideas so try to avoid the labels ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ wherever possible. A different approach is to reframe things as whether they ‘will work’ or ‘won’t work’.
The final word
Your own perspective is important and it matters, but it’s good to be aware that it is also limited by your own experience. There’s no way around this fact, and it’s true for everyone.
Our egos would like us to believe that we have all the answers or that our way is the best way. Even when we’ve heard and understood a different perspective, it can be easy to think that our view is still the most important one.
But this is the crucial point – the products or services we provide and roles we play at work will impact on other people. What you do or say and the decisions you make are all bigger than just you.
In a company such as ours, where we interact with colleagues and associates from such wide-ranging backgrounds, we know that seeking to understand each other’s perspectives has the potential to bring huge benefits – around everything from improving communication and problem solving to ensuring we make informed decisions and work collectively towards achieving our business goals.
To put this approach effectively into practise what we all have to accept is that someone else in the room may have a better idea – and that’s ok.
Whenever you’re not sure about the way forward in a business scenario, ask yourself this one question:
Based on all of the perspectives that have been shared, what is ultimately the best decision for the business?
Image source: Freepik