This article was initialy published on Forbes.com
In one of the management courses I deliver, as well as with the clients I coach, one of my favorite topics to cover is understanding perspectives.
Participants often tell me this topic is one of their key takeaways. For me, there’s great value in recognizing different perspectives in conversations because these enable us to hear and react to things very differently. One of my close friends often says: “Change how a situation occurs to you, change how you will respond to the situation.”
What is the distinction between perspective and reality? There are a lot of fun expressions around this topic. The easiest one is “my perspective is my reality,” but is this really true? Or is there a difference between the two?
Perspective is the way individuals see the world. It comes from their personal point of view and is shaped by life experiences, values, their current state of mind, the assumptions they bring into a situation, and a whole lot of other things.
Reality can be different things. We can easily say that my perspective is my reality. There is truth to that statement. When we look at the shared reality of an event, though, the more perspectives you get, the closer to reality you get.
As a leader, do you consider your own perspective as reality?
What Is Perspective-Taking?
The first key skill is called perspective-taking. One beautiful skill we have as human beings is the capability to take a different perspective.
For fun, try this. Close your eyes for a moment, and imagine yourself taking the point of view of one of your employees. Once you reach that point, ask yourself: “As an employee, what do I want?” Then take the time to ask yourself: “As an employee, what do I fear?”
What do the answers to these questions look like? If you take a different perspective, such as a manager or an executive, how do these answers differ?
Perspective-taking is about being able to understand a situation from the point of view of another person. The nice thing about this skill is in how it allows us to better explore a situation that happened in the past — or it can support you in making an upcoming decision.
As a leader, can you see your perspective for what it truly is, your own personal point of view?
What Is Perspective-Seeking?
The second skill is what I refer to as perspective-seeking. Now that you can consciously listen to the perspective of others, can you see it simply as a perspective? Not something good or bad?
This skill is about reaching out to people and better understanding their point of view on a specific topic or situation. It is about being truly and authentically curious about hearing and learning more about their perspective.
The biggest trap of perspective-seeking is reaching out to people who have the same point of view as you as a way to validate a hard decision you want to make. The richness of using this skill is actually hearing from the people who may have a different point of view than you and discovering potential blind spots or new things to consider.
What Is Perspective-Coordinating?
The final key skill is what I refer to as perspective-coordinating. Now that you can take perspectives of others and seek them out as well, what can you do with all the information you received?
The first thing you can do is observe what you can learn from the perspectives you received. What does it tell you about each person you spoke to and how they see their world? What will be the impact of a decision or a situation on them? How can you communicate back to them using the information they gave you about their perspective? How does considering these different viewpoints contribute to your understanding of the situation and help you in your decision making?
Another thing you can do is observe how wide or small their perspective is. Are they seeing the bigger picture? Can you give them any information to help widen their perspective? If so, what change does this create to their point of view?
We live in a professional world that goes fast and where people do not always take the time to step back. When going fast, leaders often confuse their perspectives with reality and have difficulty truly understanding the point of view of others.
A perspective is not right or wrong by default. It just is what it is: the point of view of a single person based on their life experiences and values, among other things. We each have one; sometimes we share it with others, and sometimes we do not.
Our perspectives shape how we act or react in a situation. What could be different in your leadership if you chose to be more generous in your interpretations of perspectives? What could be different in your personal leadership if you could better take, seek and coordinate perspectives?