What it takes to truly understand other perspectives

Every human interaction we have requires perspective. That applies whether those interactions are internal, with our team, or external, with our customers. Meaningful and impactful communication requires perspective. Influencing others requires understanding their perspectives.

Seriously, every interaction we have with another human requires perspective. It’s why we chose to name our business, Perspective Consulting.

How can we get better at gaining that perspective? Why is it so important? And how can we make sure that those results will last?

Why perspective is important

Ever heard the expression, “perspective is reality?” Perspective is how we as individuals see the world. It is shaped by a huge variety of factors, including:

  • culture
  • socioeconomic status
  • values
  • life experiences
  • beliefs systems
  • the assumptions they’ve developed over the course of their life
  • upbringing.

If you’ve ever struggled seeing past your own point of view, you understand that to see the world through other perspectives is often difficult.

When we’re interacting with another human being, we are constantly surveying them for all kinds of subtle, unspoken information. We look to ques like tone of voice, body language, and perceived emotions to give us clues to everything that person is communicating. Whether we’ve met someone before or we’re meeting them for the first time, it only takes us seconds to form judgements and assumptions about them. Now more than ever, we make these judgements even if we’ve never met that person at all.

We even make these judgements about people’s minds and about how they reached their opinions. Social science research tells us though, that while making these judgements feels easy, it’s surprisingly hard to make accurate judgements.

Why is that? We tend to overestimate not only our ability to perceive another person.

Perspective getting vs taking

At its simplest, perspective-taking is about looking at things from another person’s point of view. It seems like a great approach, right?

In a study of married couples, one partner was asked to put themselves in their partner’s shoes before predicting their partner’s response. But instead of helping them make better, more accurate predictions, it did the opposite. The exercise decreased their accuracy, but increased their confidence that they predicted correctly. They felt better about their answers, but were less able to understand their partner.

That’s the foible in relying on things like perceptions and using little clues to guess at why other people think or behave a certain way.

The only way to accurately gain insight into someone else’s mind is through something researcher Nicholas Epley calls perspective-getting.

You know that expression, “assuming something makes an ass out of you and me?” There’s quite a bit of truth in it. Perspective-taking is in reality, a lot of guesswork. Perspective-getting, on the other hand, is painfully simple.

Instead of guessing, assuming, and making judgements, the only way to get another person’s perspective is to ask that person to “honestly and accurately” report what’s actually going on in their minds.

How data leads to perspective

Especially in the workplace, the direct approach to working with other people wins. When we listen instead of assume, everybody wins.

There are many ways to listen, including directly asking someone. Sometimes, though, people need help to gain insight into what makes them tick. Behavioral and cognitive assessments can help reveal your team members’ perspectives, personality traits, abilities, drives, and needs. When you understand those things, you better understand their perspective, and you’re better able to work together towards achieving real business results.

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