Perspective is a tricky thing. Did you know that in the last 3,000 years, some have calculated that there have only been 240 years of peace throughout the civilized world? How about this: Sunglasses were invented by the Chinese but not to block the sun. They were used by judges in courtrooms to hide their emotions. And a sad irony is that on the night of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, he signed the Secret Service into existence.
These tidbits, courtesy of List25.com, may help you see a few things in a different light, but none of them are terribly important. They won’t likely affect any of your decisions or plans. Nevertheless, perspective is very important.
Each of us holds only one perspective. How we see ourselves and the world around us is the result of a complex mix of experiences, values, and beliefs. We can try to understand and appreciate how others see things—their perspective, but it is a different thing to actually have that perspective. Others’ own unique history, values, and beliefs builds their view and it is impossible for anyone to fully adopt that.
Am I saying that we should therefore not bother to understand another’s perspective? No! Anyone who has strong friendships, a successful marriage, or effective working relationships knows how important it is to gain additional perspectives.
Before I go any further, I’ll confess I’m not very good at this skill. My default approach is to make two assumptions:
- My perspective is right.
- Others see things more or less the same way I see them.
If we’re being honest, I’m pretty sure many of you hold the same assumptions to some extent. So let’s take a moment to explore six questions that will help break down those assumptions.
When trying to understand how others see a problem, challenge, or opportunity, ask others the following questions.
If we did it this way, how would that affect your work? Others’ work?
It’s pretty tough to understand the true nature of people’s work. Think about the last job you took. The most thorough training programs rarely get close to what the job is really like. Don’t assume you know what someone’s job is really like or how a change in work will affect that. The answers to this question will help you see what is important in their work.
If you had to make this decision, how would you handle it?
Given the authority to make a real decision, what would others do? Asking this question can reveal wisdom and insight into the situation that you cannot quickly obtain in any other way.
What should we do instead of this?
Give people the freedom to shoot down a solution and create their own. They may or may not come up with a viable solution, but that’s not the point. Don’t evaluate their solution. Learn from the perspective that it shows you.
Who should we talk to that could help us understand this better?
With this question, you’re essentially finding out whose perspective you should get that you haven’t already sought.
What are the biggest gains from doing this?
On several occasions, I have pitched an idea to a group of decision makers and I was surprised at the benefits they saw that I did not. This helped me better understand what was important to them.
Who will this benefit the most?
The previous question will elicit responses focusing on the work, whereas this question will zero in on the impact to people. In both cases, you’ll find out more about priorities, values, and networks of influence.
It is hard work to expand perspective. It takes time. It’s not usually practical to launch a perspective-broadening campaign. However, effective leaders develop the habit of regularly asking probing questions to gain insight and build perspective.
Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.