Understanding someone else’s perspective can be a hugely important ability when it comes to connecting, interacting and communicating with other people and this week I’ve got a fascinating and practical way, based on research, that you can do that more effectively.
The exercise in question is one we do regularly on our flagship one-day training course – the Meetology Masterclass – and it is supported by lots of different research, but the specific paper I’ll cite today is from a study undertaken by psychologists collaborating from both China and the US.
The study investigated how best we can gain the perspective of someone else through two different methods. The first was via what psychologists call ‘inferred perspective’ – by looking at someone’s face and trying to guess what they’re thinking and feeling. Whilst the second was via what psychologists call ‘simulated perspective’ – this method requires us to actually get into the physical space of someone else and then imagine what life is like from their perspective, rather than looking at them from a distance.
The study found that the second method – simulated perspective – was much more successful, and backs up the following exercise which we often encourage and you can try for yourself – especially if you are in conflict or disagreement with someone else as it can be very effective.
Get 3 empty seats and sit in one of them. This is your position from where you look at a situation from your own personal viewpoint. When sitting here talk (to yourself or to a friend/colleague) about what your problem is with the other person you are disagreeing with. Explore your thoughts and feelings. Then move to another chair – this is the other person’s perspective. Repeat the same exercise and try to imagine their life, their role, their situation and describe what it might be like for them. What are they thinking? What are they feeling? It can be incredibly powerful to find yourself taking their view and empathising with how they may be seeing things.
Finally take the final position and talk about how a 3rd party might view things – someone independent of the specific situation; again this can be very powerful as you can see things more objectively.
Having completed this, explore how different it felt in each chair and the different experiences you verbalised – the exercise should make it easier for you to empathise with someone else’s perspective.
I’ve seen this in action so many times and it is so powerful. You can go and use this NOW in relation to any professional or personal conflict that you are experiencing – it is interesting, practical and backed-by-science – go and use it and encourage your team to do so too when needed.
Don’t forget to share this week’s insight and I’ll be back in a week’s time with some more meetology® – exploring the fascinating psychology powering exceptional people skills.
See you next week, until then take care,
The Meetology® Lab
Zhou, Haotian, Elizabeth A. Majka, and Nicholas Epley. “Inferring Perspective Versus Getting Perspective: Underestimating the Value of Being in Another Person’s Shoes.” Psychological science 28.4 (2017): 482-493.