There’s always more than one point of view. But sometimes it’s easy to forget that our own point of view is not the only way to look at things. When you’re able to see and understand someone else’s perspective, it can help us communicate better. For advice on how to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and truly understand someone else’s point of view, we turned to Jaelline Jaffe, a writer, editor and a licensed marriage and family therapist with 30 years of experience assisting individuals, couples, and groups. The following is an article prepared by Dr. Jaffe.
Seeing Things as WE Are
It is our natural tendency to think that we see things the way they ARE—but since we all see things from our own perspectives, it should be apparent that we see things as WE are, not as THEY are. The inability to see things from another’s perspective is at the root of relationship problems everywhere: from personal life, to work, to conflicts between religions, cultures, and nations.
We need some shifts in focus to see the world through another person’s eyes. Generally, our resistance to do so comes from two sources: 1) we “know” we are right and the other person is wrong; or 2) we think if we had to see things from the other’s point of view, we might have to give up our own.
To help people shift their resistance to seeing things from another point of view, I have found several tools useful. Whether engaged by one person, two, or more, these tools can help develop skills of seeing things from another’s perspective.
Using one or more perspective drawings (such as the classic vase/two facing profiles or the young woman/old woman), ask each person what he sees in the picture. If everyone sees the same drawing, point out the alternative. Which one is correct? Both perspectives are accurate—the challenge is to be able to shift from one to the other, and then acknowledge that more than one answer is correct. Many of these perspective drawings can be found at http://eluzions.com/Illusions/Ambiguous.
Role Play / Role Reversal
Clearly state your position, your point of view, while your partner listens carefully for the details, taking notes, if needed. Then your partner explains his/her position, while you listen. No discussion or interrupting allowed. Now switch roles (husband/wife, parent/child, boss/employee) and, using as many of your partner’s own words and emotions as possible, pretend to be that person and present “your” argument. Notice how it feels to be in that position, and see if the other’s point of view makes more sense, now that you are in his/her shoes.
Consider the Source
Why do we see things differently? In large part, it is because our life experiences are different and have shaped our perspectives. When someone’s view runs contrary to our own, we can ask ourselves what might have happened in that person’s life that could have resulted in that way of looking at things. For example, someone who grew up in a kind and supportive home is likely to see things quite differently from one who had to always watch his back and be careful about what he said or did.
Adopt a “Child’s Mind”
Before we “knew” so much, before we became attached to our beliefs as though they were truths, we had the ability to ask innocent questions, to gather information. When someone has a perspective different from our own, we can use our Zen Beginner’s Mind, and ask, with genuine curiosity and interest, Why? “I don’t see it the same way you do and I wonder if you can tell me more about how you came to that conclusion.” “I really don’t agree with your point, and I’m interested in expanding my understanding. Please explain what I’m missing, from where you stand.”
Many other skills can evolve from these tools. These tools can prevent conflicts, resolve differences and work toward collaborative solutions that take the best of each perspective, look for commonalities and rise above reactions to minor differences. But first, we must recognize that there are many ways to view a situation, and our own way is not the only correct one!
Jaelline Jaffe, PhD, is mental health editor of www.Helpguide.org. Her personal web site, www.LemonAidCounseling.com, reflects her own perspective which is that while we cannot always control our life circumstances, we CAN manage our responses to them. She is a contributor to The Language of Emotional Intelligence, published by McGraw-Hill.