Getting different perspectives is very important. “It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view.” – George Eliot (English novelist and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era.)
We are right. We know we are right and those that disagree are wrong.
We judge others assuming they are wrong or plain stupid. Often in reality, what this means is that we don’t understand how their reasoning works. Their different perspective arises from a set of facts that is different from our own.
Understanding that reasoning can help us to point out that the facts they are dealing with are wrong or incomplete. We can then discuss why their reasoning may be flawed. Of course, there’s the flip-side. Our own facts may be off and our reasoning is faulty. And we can adjust our position.
That’s why it is important to look at things from other perspectives.
When making plans or deciding on a course of action, it is always good to get different viewpoints from staff, colleagues and trusted advisors.
In that way we can get a full view of our options and potential problems that may be encountered.
I admit that I didn’t always have an open mind.
I made a decision and I tried to stick by it, even when I was dead wrong. I hated to admit that either I was wrong or that I didn’t know everything. After all, I was smart. I had the grades to prove it.
But then, I looked around and saw that there were others who had the same thought about themselves. They also knew that they were right and anyone who disagreed with them was wrong. And not only wrong, but the dissenter was not a good person. It went far beyond a difference of opinion. It became personal.
That was Jessica. She was heading a systems implementation project I was involved with. We didn’t agree on a lot, but we discussed our differences in private. I always supported her in the public meeting, or at least was quiet if I didn’t fully agree.
In one particular meeting, I expressed my viewpoint about organizational changes that I knew were necessary as part of the project. In front of the participants, she strongly opposed my views, even though these had been discussed and resolved beforehand. I was stunned, but I defended my findings which really ticked her off.
After that, it became personal. We agreed on nothing and there were no more discussions about our disagreements.
I was working on another project and heading a sub team regarding the logistics implications of a new facility. It was time to present our findings and recommendations and Jessica emailed me. She thought some of the team members would be better to present and discuss this, even though I had much more information and detail than they did.
I reluctantly agreed. At the meeting, the “better” presenters did a terrible job. They left the audience confused and under informed. The Vice President saw my face and after the meeting asked for a private session with just the two of us.
At it I covered everything the others hadn’t. He was impressed and in turn released this information to the participants from the other meeting. He credited the team and I for a job well done. This cemented my relationship with Jessica and we didn’t speak again at all after that.
That is when I started to become more open to listening to and understanding others and their points of view. I needed to know not only what they were thinking, but what caused them to think that way. I didn’t mean that I was wrong or even that they were. It meant that we had different life experiences. These shaped how we thought about things and made our decisions based on that.
I also learned that to make decisions based on only a single point of view can be dangerous. You may miss important aspects that can keep you from making a major mistake. It takes some time to do this, but it is worth the effort. And it lets those who work with and for you know that you are open minded and value their thoughts and opinions.
We don’t have to agree with opposing points of view. Nor do we have to accept them. But, by listening to them and understanding why they are different from our own, we can:
- Strengthen business relations – This allows us to better know our customers and fellow workers. In that way we learn what they are looking for, why they are looking for it and how to best meet their needs. The best way to figure this out is to step into their shoes and see business from their perspective.
- Provide greater innovation – By opening our minds to new ways of thinking, creativity is sparked. This can lead into some of the most unexpected innovations.
- Increase understanding – Learning from others with different ideas enables us to discover that there are alternative ways to approach things. Then we can increase our understanding when it comes to why people think and act differently.
- Increase tolerance – When we come to understand how and why others think differently our tolerance increases. We stop making ignorant assumptions that can be destructive.
- Strengthen relationships – The moment we see the situation from another’s perspective, we give a successful interaction a chance. We can then refrain from entering into a contentious situation. We can find a middle ground. And our relationship will have the potential to improve and become stronger.
- Become a better problem-solver – The more we know, the more we understand. We then have more tools in our toolbox to solve the myriad of life problems. If something doesn’t go as planned, it doesn’t mean there isn’t another path toward the desired goal. Creative thinking and a broad perspective of how things can work can ensure that no problem goes unsolved.
By not taking other perspectives into account we run the following dangers:
1. People tend to see only what their perspective allows them to see. Without looking at other perspectives we create bias. In turn, people will then tend to pick out and focus on those facts that confirm their prior perceptions. They will disregard or misinterpret those that call their perceptions into question.
2. The same message can mean two entirely different things from two different perspectives. By not gaining additional insight, the same message may be interpreted. It may be friendly teasing or hostile insubordination. It all depends on the perspective of the receiver. Knowing what the other person thinks is important. Or serious misunderstandings may take place.
3. Misunderstandings will often occur because we assume that everyone sees things from the same perspective as we do. We need to understand other perspectives and know that other avenues are available to us.
4. We may miss out on better ideas. By considering other thoughts and options we can take the best of everything. We then come out with a superior result.
We have all heard it before:
- Seek input
- Be inclusive
- Welcome perspectives
- Collaborate with others
Where do these principles come from? And why is this type of inclusion beneficial for me?
Early on in my career, I didn’t know why. School was not often a place for collaboration. It was more of an individual exercise, to show how much you knew versus the other students. For the most part it wasn’t a group thing, but a singular enterprise. If the professor found you with anything close to what someone else had written or created, you might both be in trouble for copying or cheating.
That mindset has been mostly changed. Collaboration in education is widely taught and encouraged. This is a much better place for us to be. But, in my school days, not so much.
When I joined the workforce, teamwork was not stressed or encouraged.
You were given assignments and expected to complete them on your own. Work was accomplished based on learning experiences. At first I struggled. But then I decided to ask others for help. For the most part, they were happy to help. And I learned a lot from them. I became a human sponge.
From then on, I decided that the best way to get things done was to get other perspectives and ideas. Taking those and melding them with my own knowledge made for a powerful combination. It made me think of ways to do things I would not have on my own. And I learned from the mistakes of others so I didn’t repeat them myself.
This was a valuable lesson to learn. There are many different perspectives in all organizations. They are there for the taking if we only do so. Otherwise, decisions and our overall business are limited when other perspectives are restricted and not taken into account.
This action should influence our life thoughts and decisions as well. Our focus should be geared toward diversity of thought. And we should take other points of view into account. Without diversity of thought, innovation is thwarted and initiatives may stall. We need to approach issues with various perspectives to be able to see the whole truth.
Seeking input can be easy.
Yet, many individuals and organizations struggle to follow through. Some of the barriers that cause this to not happen are:
- We’re afraid our own perspective won’t be good enough. Our perception is valid and matters. It is only limited by our own experiences. We would like to believe that we have all the answers or our way is the best way. We want to be perceived by others as smart. We have to remember that decisions are bigger than us and our opinions.
- What we have to accept is that someone else may have a better idea. There are a lot of smart people in this world. They are as smart as and often smarter than us. We need to listen to them, even if at first we disagree with them. By listening and carefully considering their views we will learn some valuable things. This doesn’t make us less smart, but actually makes us smarter.
- There may be cultural problems to be addressed. Being inclusive may not be the norm. It may be unusual to host a meeting where the intention is to share different perspectives. There may be silos between teams and departments. Certain leaders may fail to give and ask for feedback. If any of these are true you could be facing some deep cultural issues that need some serious adjustment.
Sir Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants”.
There are many giants in our lives. We don’t always agree or see eye to eye on everything. In fact, may disagree on most things. But to know, understand and appreciate their points of view are important. It is like panning for gold. It takes a lot of time and effort. But when that golden nugget is found, it is worth it. So, take the time to listen to others and consider their perspectives.