Unblock Your Perspective: Listen More, Learn More, and Get More Done
- Let’s go on a little journey… (0:25)
- The problem with making others wrong so you can be right (2:20)
- Collecting perspectives: A case study (3:55)
- Perspective + Reciprocity = Trust (8:40)
- And how about you? (11:15)
Unblock Your Perspective
Let’s Go on a Little Journey…
Imagine that you, me, and two others are meeting for lunch. We’re in a city, and the restaurant is in one of those big multi-level buildings that takes up an entire city block.
We arrive at the building individually at the appointed time. However, I arrive on the north side, you’re on the south side, and our lunchmates arrive separately on the east and west sides. Since we’ve agreed to meet in front of the building, we each stand on our particular side, looking around for the rest of our group.
Finally, one of us decides to initiate a group call to uncover where everyone else is. And each of us, believing that we’re at the front of the right building, begins to describe what our building looks like. The conversation becomes heated as we each hold on to our belief that “I’m in front of the right building!”
I might say, “Yeah, I’m in front of the right building. It has a glass revolving door with two potted plants on either side, and a neon sign in the window indicating the restaurant’s name.”
You might say, “No, I know for certain that I’m at the right building. It has an automatic sliding door entrance, a doorman, and a taxi stand out front.”
Then our friend on the east side insists, “No, I’m in front of the right building. My Lyft driver dropped me here. There are several doors leading to small businesses. I see a tax preparer, a FedEx store, and a shoe store, and then there’s a directory indicating the restaurant is also in here.
And our friend on the west side asserts, “Oh, no, no! I’m in front of the right building. It has a single doorway, a seating area, and a sign for the restaurant.”
The Problem with Making Others Wrong So You Can Be Right
Each person is certain they are right and all the others are wrong, and instead of listening to the others as they describe their perspective, each of us is thinking about how we’re going to get everyone else to understand that I am right! when it’s our turn to speak again.
And yet, we all want the same things:
- We want to meet together in person,
- We want to share some food, and
- We want to discuss something that’s important enough to take the time to get together in person.
But our ego – our thinking mind – wants to protect us from being wrong. It wants to support us, promote us as an expert, even when we can benefit from seeing what things look like from someone else’s perspective.
If we just stayed grounded in those shared goals and became aware of when our egos were getting in the mix, then perhaps we would have been able to listen to each other’s perspectives and more quickly realized: “Hey guys, we’re all in front of the same building! We just have different perspectives. Let’s figure out how little we each have to shift so we can all get into the restaurant and fulfill our shared goals.”
If even one of us was able to listen clearly and openly, they might even have said, “Hey, stay where you are. Let me walk around the corner and get a view from that side, and then I’ll go around the next corner and see if maybe I can see what you are seeing and describing.”
This is the act of perspective-taking, one of the key components in the development of empathy, and empathy is one of the critical components that help us give and receive trust.
Collecting Perspectives: A Case Study
I’ve been working with the leadership team of a large high-profile government agency. We’ve already done several sessions on improving listening, communicating to understand, and engaging in healthy conflict, and in our most recent session, we did an activity called Blocked Perspective.
This activity involves each member of the team having only a slice of the information needed to solve the challenge. For the problem to be solved successfully, it’s critical that everyone’s perspective is shared and heard and integrated. Collecting perspectives is the only way the team can see all sides and, ultimately, see the solution.
Many in this group were eager to share what they knew, and most were eager to listen to what others knew so it all could be integrated into the collective knowledge base. But two members of the group were insistent that their isolated piece of information was correct and more important than anyone else’s. They both became more and more forceful, shouting their perspectives. They would not hear nor integrate what the others were sharing.
As the facilitator, I soon noticed that the rest of the group was choosing to stand back, to shut down. The other members of the group stopped trying to engage or share with the two who were shouting, and eventually, those two were the only people left trying to solve the problem – but they were trying to solve it by winning the other person over to their perspective.
I watched in amazement at the dynamic that was playing out before my eyes. Six directors – who are responsible for one of the most expensive and significant initiatives undertaken in their agency, and with the eyes of the world watching the rollout – were completely shut down by two of their peers, who were now shouting at each other and demanding only their view was correct.
Some may say that this group did not successfully complete this activity because they did not end with the correct solution, but I say this was the most successful session of Block Perspective I’ve ever facilitated. Why?
Because in the debriefing of the activity, each person was able to articulate what happened for them when those two began trying to force their perspective down everyone else’s throats. I asked the group, “Is this a common occurrence?” and watched each person’s reaction.
“Most every team meeting ends this way,” they said. “We all stop contributing because they get into it.” One executive began to get teary-eyed and said, “I just don’t feel like jumping into that dynamic, so my thoughts and perspective never get heard. I leave every meeting frustrated.”
While this story depicts the most intense version of people who want to bring others into alignment with their perspective more than they want to solve the problem, I see this occur, to some degree, in nearly every organization where I’m brought in because people are expressing a lack of trust.
Perspective + Reciprocity = Trust
One very real component of trust is the belief that when I share my perspective, you are listening to learn versus listening to identify why my perspective is wrong. I must know that in the listening and the sharing, I am not at risk of losing or giving up anything. That, instead, I am going to expand my view, increase my knowledge and understanding, and, ultimately, we’ll come up with a more easeful and winning solution that serves the good of the whole.
Many, many companies bring me in to deal with symptoms like those exhibited by the high stakes team described above. In that case, I was brought in to help them have better meetings, which was great, but as I watched them interact, it was clear to me that the real issue was trust.
Trust that we can share our views and listen to each other, and that when we do, we will not lose, but we’ll actually gain, and that our perspective-taking, the very act of hearing your perspective and sharing mine, is an exchange for mutual benefit and the good of the whole – a form of reciprocity.
And How About You?
So, how does your team or your company (or even you as an individual) engage in the art of perspective-taking?
- Do you all listen to learn?
- Do you all share so that you can receive feedback?
- Do you all ask, “Hey, how does the perspective I’m sharing align with or differ from your view of this challenge?” and, most importantly,
- How can we integrate all the different perspectives and fit them into the solution so that, in the end, we come up with a more dynamic, inclusive, and valuable solution for the good of the whole?
Or instead, do you see the symptoms demonstrated above, like unhealthy conflict, a lack of being heard, and an inability to engage in open perspective-taking – and noticed how these behaviors block the progress towards goals? Have you witnessed some people just shutting down, and eventually leaving, because they don’t feel like there’s a place for them to have a voice?
If the answer to any of those is yes, then let’s talk. Let’s get your company, your organization, or your team talking about how to develop a more trusting environment. Let’s begin building a culture where everybody feels like they can give and receive trust.
It takes time, but small behavior shifts make it easier and much more rewarding than continuing in an environment without trust and reciprocity.
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