How Do You Change Perspective?

We have all experienced times when our opinions or beliefs greatly differ from another person.  Diversity of perspective is certainly an essential ingredient to successful businesses and individuals. It helps us see past what comes naturally to determine what else is worth considering.

Yet, too often we find ourselves not being open to another person’s perspective, particularly if it is very different than our own.  The differences in our thoughts, beliefs and values tend to conjure up resistance rather than curiosity.  We tend to find ways to validate our own perspective rather than finding ways to figure out if what the other person is thinking may have some value.

What we do know is our environment influences our experiences.  These experiences influence the values, beliefs and ultimately our perspectives of everything around us.  Depending on these experiences, however deep and strong, it creates how we think and act in this ever evolving world.

Fundamentally, we may hold on to our perspective because:

  • It is something we know.  It feels right, feels familiar. 
  • We have probably been rewarded for this perspective by others around us who share this same perspective, and as such, reinforces it. 
  •  It becomes part of our identity and when challenged, feels like a threat to our existence or ways of living in this world.

So what to do?

Changing perspective involves the following:

1)    Be curious & listen.  Ask questions of the other person to understand the reasons for their behavior and believe you will learn something of value.

2)    Suspend judgment.  It will be impossible to change or influence someone’s perspective if they feel, through your actions, you are placing judgment.

3)    Empathize.   Yes, empathize.  No matter how different your perspective is from the other person, allow yourself to feel what the other person is feeling and why his/her perspective exists.

4)    Be open.  Think about how you can both appreciate each other’s perspective to influence a different outcome together.  When this happens, the possibilities are endless.

In a recent HBR article “Disagreement Doesn’t Have to Be Divisive,” the author Francesca Gino states, “When we’re in conflict, it’s easy to focus on all the ways we disagree with each other. It’s also easy to become defensive and stop listening to the other side altogether. But across multiple studies, we’ve found that even when people passionately disagree, they usually have some shared values or common beliefs that can bring them together.”

One technique I have learned many years ago in managing through conflict is to take the time to understand the “interests” behind someone’s “position.”   

Many times in conflict or when perspectives are different, we focus on just the “position.”   Here is a hiring/recruiting example:

  • Position #1: “We need to change the recruiting process.”
  • Position #2: “No, we don’t. The recruiting process works fine, we need to change the systems, that’s the issue.”   

We tend to argue and disagree on the “position” to solve problems, that at times, can go nowhere if perspectives are strong. Rather, if we use the 4 steps above and also learn the “interests” behind the “positions” we may uncover interests that are aligned and common.  In the example above, interests that both people may find in common are wanting to:

  • Increase efficiency   
  • Reduce costs
  • Hire and retain best talent

Thus, creating an opportunity to change perspective, collaborate and problem solve together. As a wise man once said, “trying to change a one way street into a two way street with equal traffic flowing in both directions is not easy to do but the results would be productive.” With this in mind…

What are ways you have influenced or have been open to another person’s perspective to achieve a better outcome?

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JM Consulting Group, LLC