Message from Julie: The Power of Perspective Shifts
Is it a duck or a rabbit? A young lady or an old lady? It depends on how you look at it, of course. And both perspectives are correct. It is a duck and a rabbit. A young lady and an old lady. Once you see both, you may even be able to switch back and forth between the two very quickly.
Our day-to-day interactions have much in common with optical illusions like these. In every situation there are multiple perspectives – ours, that of others involved, that of uninvolved observers. And it is likely we all see the situation from very different perspectives. Often though we operate under the illusion that everyone sees the same picture that we do. We assume our interpretation is the only correct one and fail to consider alternative interpretations.
The experiences of our life’s journey have shaped our thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions. The perspectives formed by these experiences play a significant role in how we navigate the world around us. Our perspectives are like eyeglasses through which we view the world, and each of us wears glasses with different colored lenses.
The ability to change perspectives, to see the world through the eyes of others, can be transformational both personally and professionally. As leaders it is a critical skill for our success. The ability to see situations from multiple perspectives fosters empathy, increases resilience, fuels creativity, and helps navigate destructive conflict.
While we can never completely remove the lenses through which we see the world, we can become aware of the illusion that our reality is the only correct one. We can practice shifting our perspective to gain a greater understanding of how those we are interacting with see the world.
Three actions to develop perspective shifting skills
Challenge your assumptions. In interactions, especially those where there is conflict, disagreement, or you find yourself being judgmental, ask yourself questions like
- Is my perspective accurate? What else could be true?
- What might be the other person’s perspective? How do they see/feel about the situation? How might I feel if I were in their shoes?
- How might an uninvolved observer interpret the situation?
Challenge yourself to develop alternative perspectives to your own even if what you come up with seems farfetched or improbable.
Be curious and engage in open dialogue. Have conversations with people who see the world differently than you do to explore their opinions and beliefs. Approach these conversations with curiosity rather than judgement. Starting the conversation with “Help me understand …” or “I would really like to understand your perspective …” helps set the tone for meaningful and respectful conversations. You may also want to get the perspective of an uninvolved, unbiased observer, especially for highly charged emotional situations.
Participate in a “Perspective Swap”. As described by Rebecca Hinds in a recent HBR article, How “Perspective Swaps” can Unlock Organizational Change, a “perspective swap” is when an individual spends time doing a job other than their own. The TV series, Undercover Boss is a great example of a “perspective swap”. However perspective swaps need not be as complex as those depicted in the TV show. These swaps can be vertical where the CEO or other executive swaps places with an individual contributor or lateral where someone from the IT department swaps roles with some from Human Resources. According to Hinds, in addition to gaining an understanding of a situation from another perspective, an exercise like this helps build “cognitive flexibility” – the ability to think creatively and adaptively in response to new situations and change efforts.
Seeing situations from different perspectives reduces strife and unhealthy conflict. It enables more informed, innovative, and effective decisions while fostering a culture of inclusivity, collaboration, and adaptability.