Sometimes it’s difficult to imagine that there could be a reasonable, valid point of view that is different from yours. For example, Jenn, a team leader at an engineering firm, determined that it was important to fund a proposed program development project in the coming fiscal year. She evaluated the sales data, reviewed industry marketing trends, and considered the long-term strategy of her company. Jenn knew it would open up a new market and was vital for the long-term health of the company.
Her colleague Tina disagreed. She thought that spending time and resources on the proposed program development was a dead end, and that the company should pursue a different direction. “That’s impossible,” thought Jenn. “How could Tina reach that conclusion? The data is right in front of her. She knows the market. Funding the project is obvious.” Jenn could simply not imagine, in any reasonable universe, how a person could arrive at a different conclusion. At least a conclusion that was valid and sensible.
Jenn had become locked in on her own assumptions and perspectives and assumed that everyone else should be seeing things the same way — in fact, they had to see it the same way. What other way was there! For another perspective, read Arden Coaching’s “Shape Your Mindset: How Do You Choose To View the World?”
But there is always another well-reasoned, plausible way to view a situation, assess the data, and develop a conclusion. A great leader knows this — and leverages the fact to help them build their organization.
Looking at a Coffee Mug: An Exercise in Perspective and Viewpoint
Try this with your team. The exercise facilitator holds a coffee mug in their hand and extends it for two people to see — one person 90 degrees to the right of the facilitator, and the other person 90 degrees to the left.
The coffee mug should have a handle and a small graphic design on the outside. The handle should be pointed toward one person (the other person will not be able to see it).
The facilitator then offers the following scenario: The people to their right and left are visiting aliens from another planet. They have no idea what a coffee mug is; no idea what its function is. Their task is to describe in detail exactly what they see. That’s all they can really do — after all, they are aliens with no knowledge of this earth artifact!
For example, one person describes a small white container. It is slightly taller than it is wide, and it is cylindrical, with an open top. It also has a mark on the outside — a yellow circle with two blue dots and, just below the dots, a blue horizontal, upward-bending curve.
Of course, the other person sees things differently. Yes, the earth object is white and the other person agrees with the general shape of the container. But there’s no mark; no yellow circle (where is that coming from?) and there is a looped piece attached vertically to the cylinder that may possibly be used to grasp or hang the device (how could my colleague have failed to mention that!).
The mug is described differently, but it’s the same thing.
Circle Back to the Other Person’s Perspective
This fun exercise is simple, but the point is clear. The two individuals ARE seeing differently. They are not dumb, or unobservant, or clueless, or misinformed. They are simply reporting on what they can observe from their perspective. Critically, while the exercise revolves around a simple, physical object, it can be applied to even the most complex situations.
With this in mind, Jenn met with Tina — with an open and curious mind. It was important for Jenn to assume that Tina’s assessments and conclusions WERE reasonable, just different, and to want to learn more. For more about this, read, “Having a Difficult Conversation? First, Fill the Pool of Shared Meaning.”
Tina had some data Jenn had not seen. Her interpretation of market trends was different and, of course, would lead to a different conclusion. Also, Tina’s understanding of the company’s long term strategy meant she viewed project priorities differently. They continued to disagree, but, given a new perspective, Jenn modified her view somewhat. Their disagreement became less emotional and more collegial, respectful, and built on growing mutual trust. In the future, they would work more effectively together.
The experience also made Jenn a better leader — she became more curious about understanding different sources of data, alternative interpretations, and differences of opinion within her team. As she increasingly considered other points of view and other perspectives she had not thought of on her own, her decision-making improved (not to mention the morale of her team, knowing that their boss was listening more closely and valuing their input more than ever).
To learn more about strengthening your communication and other essential leadership skills, contact us at [email protected] or 646.684.3777.