Why it’s worth looking at things from somebody else’s point of view
by Cathy Lumsden
As human beings, we are each unique and different. How boring and monotonous life would be if we were all the same. One way we humans differ is that we have different perspectives; we see things in different ways and from different viewpoints. We all have different maps of reality, generated by our personal experiences and environments. As is written in the Talmud, “We see the things not as they are, but as we are.”
Why is it, then, that we have such a difficult time when others having perspectives or perceptions that differ from ours? Why do people take offence and get caught up in proving they’re right and someone else is wrong?
It’s All About the Mind
Behavioral psychologists believe the main reason we have difficulty stepping into someone else’s shoes is because of confirmatory bias. The Wikipedia definition of confirmatory bias is “the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses.”
We automatically view new things from our same old lens. Fortunately, though, our minds are malleable. With focus, we can adjust that lens.
Another explanation is that some people’s coping styles involve perfectionism and/or superiority. Since they believe they’re failing if they’re wrong, they may have a difficult time seeing the perspectives of others.
In any case, there’s a fine art to not being offended when someone presses you with a differing perspective. It takes practice; however, it’s better for you and the other person when you’re able to look at things from the other viewpoint.
Benefits of perspective-taking:
1 – You increase your effectiveness in relating to others when you’re able to consider their points of view. Developing effective interpersonal relationships is crucial for happiness and health. The ability to understand and empathize with others increases rapport and trust, which often allows you to effectively discuss and resolve issues. These skills are essential both in the home and in the workplace.
2 – You enhance your creative thinking skills when you learn to see different perspectives. Children are naturally creative, however some individuals lose that ability due to a variety of factors. Creativity keeps life full of vitality. Edward de Bono, a well-known creativity expert in England, developed a tool called the Six Thinking Hats. Not only does this tool assist individuals to become more creative, it also forces them to adopt different points of view. Each hat represents a different perspective. For example, the red hat stands for intuition, feelings and emotions; the white hat represents facts and figures; the black hat is for judgment and caution; the green is for alternatives; yellow only looks at an idea’s advantages; and the blue hat moderates the discussion. When an issue is presented, everyone puts on a different colour of hat. Then each participant can only discuss the problem from that point of view. Throughout the exercise, individuals switch hats in order to see a variety of positions and solutions.
3 – You’re able to consider possible consequences of your choices and actions when you develop your ability to see different perspectives. The benefit from this is that you learn to make conscious and perhaps more appropriate decisions both for yourself and for others. The more conscious you are about your choices, the more you can learn from your mistakes.
To hone your perspective-taking skills, what I suggest using is The W.E. method: What Else…can it be? You may believe the best route to a restaurant is the way you always go. Challenge that notion. When you train yourself to wonder ‘what else can it be,’ you’re rewiring your brain. The W.E. method is commonly used for brainstorming in the workplace and in schools. Using the same strategy in your relationships can significantly reduce arguments, as well as build trust and intimacy.
We all have the ability to adapt our thinking, and to adopt a mindset that allows us to honour our own perspectives as well as those of others. As we do, we begin to live a more healthy well-balanced life.
Cathy Lumsden is a psychotherapist, researcher and international speaker. Contact her at Adlerian Counselling and Consulting Group, 613 737-5553.