Message From Julie: The Consequences of Mistaking Subjective Reality for Objective Reality
Have you ever wondered how two people can perceive the same situation from such totally different perspectives? It happens all the time. Two witnesses have differing accounts of what happened. Two team members insist their approach to achieving the goal is the “right” one. Two doctors promote radically different treatment approaches.
Perceptions, beliefs, and viewpoints are often based on subjective reality. Yet we treat them as if they represent objective realty. Simply put, objective reality is an observable fact. Within the earth’s atmosphere gravity is objective reality. If you drop an egg out a second story window and it hits the concrete below it is going to go splat – every time.
Subjective reality on the other hand, encompasses the realm of beliefs about things like what is right and wrong or good and bad. Even topics like what is the best exercise regimen or the healthiest diet fall into the bucket of subjective reality.
I vividly remember the day I fully understood the difference between objective and subjective reality. It was Wednesday, November 7, 1984. The day after the 1984 Presidential Election. Ronald Regan and George H. W. Bush had just defeated Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro for another four years in the White House.
I was a graduate student in the MBA program at the University of Texas at Austin and I was taking classes in the College of Sociology. When I arrived at the business administration building that morning the mood was jubilant. The world had been saved and we could look forward to four years of prosperity.
Later that day, when I walked across campus to one of my sociology classes, I encountered a mood of doom and gloom. Ronald Regan had been re-elected and the world might not survive another four years. I was fascinated at how the same event could be viewed through such different lenses. It was a defining moment in my life. That Regan had been re-elected president was objective reality. The rest was subjective.
The problem is not that so much of life’s “realities” are subjective. The problem is that we too often mislabel subjective reality as objective – leaving little or no room for other legitimate viewpoints that differ from our own.
I believe mislabeling subjective reality as objective is a contributing factor to so much of what we see in society today. To have the conversations necessary to bridge differences – political, cultural, religious, social, and more – we must find a way to stop making those who believe or think differently than we do wrong. We must make room for differing beliefs and perspectives.
As leaders of or within organizations, we are in a unique position to create the space for these conversations. We must start by examining our own biases and being open to examining situations from all perspectives. Research tells us that diversity – all kinds of diversity including diversity of thought – leads to higher-performing teams. However, this is only true when the level of trust is high enough to allow for honest, open dialogue. By being open to the perspectives of others, we build a foundation of trust within our teams that allows us to reap the rewards of diversity.
TAGGED : A Blueprint for Culture Change, building a strong team, company culture, Diversity