Whether you're dealing with someone difficult, resolving a conflict, or simply broadening your perspective, here are practical approaches and practices to help you be at your best. Make sure you read down to the simple exercises, and try them!
It boils down to this: the more you make yourself look through another person's eyes, even if you can't stand them, the more you will be able to do your best work with them. And, if you happen to like, or agree with them, it's an even more powerful practice. Seeing the world from behind their eyeballs never means you have to like or agree with them. I ask that you simply identify and mirror back to them their perspective.
Making this your way of handling difficult people and situations is the key to finding common ground, and moving into effectiveness together. Negotiators, arbitrators, and conflict resolvers the world over use this technique to get to "yes."
Thinking back to a tough person or situation, did you tend to find yourself sticking to your own point of view, or were you making a mental effort to imagine the situation from their viewpoint? If you had, you might have ended up telling them something like:
"I can see how that makes sense from your perspective."
"I understand your perspective."
Let’s break it down. Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) has defined three perceptual positions you can take in any conversation or situation:
- First Position is your own perspective -- and that's most common for each of us.
- Second Position is the other person's point of view.
- Third Position is that of an observer watching the conversation between the two (or more) of you.
While I rarely use NLP tools in my practice, awareness of these perceptual positions helps my clients be more deliberate and conscious about the perspective they take. Being able to take all three positions, particularly during difficult situations, breaks up stalemates, enabling greater likelihood of a more effective use of your time.
Here are ways you can practice broadening your perspective:
Beginner: The next time you're in a meeting as more of an observer than a participant, I'd like you to take a few minutes, and go around the table, person by person, in your own mind. As you get to each person, imagine you’re looking from behind their eyeballs. What do things look like to them? What do they want? What do they fear? What's at stake for them? What's concerning them? Make a few notes for each person, then continue observing the meeting. This is mainly to get your feet wet, and get used to shifting your perspective from first to second position. Try it a few times in small group meetings, then a few times in one-on-one sessions.
Intermediate: The next time you’re in a heated discussion or conflict, make yourself pause and shift perspective to second position (that of the other). Is it easy? Is it difficult? What changes as you really do it? Make a few notes, and repeat it several times until you are comfortable doing it.
Advanced: The next time you’re in a heated discussion or conflict, shift to second position, and tell them you can see what they mean. Tell them you can see how things look to them, and explain to them your observation from THEIR perspective. If you’re wrong, there’s no harm, because THEY WILL CORRECT YOU. If that happens, summarize what you heard, and tell them you can see it. How does this shift the conflict into resolution? Repeat it the next time, until you are comfortable.
These practices will not only help you be a better leader, but will also help you understand the world from a larger perspective. What could be wrong with that?
Looking forward to hearing about your discoveries!