Seeing different perspectives
Where do you first see the red dot in relation to the Perspex box?
Last week I was running a communication skills workshop for a small hotel group, to help improve communication between the sales teams and operations teams.
One of the principles we discussed was the importance of seeing things from others’ perspectives.
Coming back to the red dot, there are lots of possibilities; it doesn’t matter if in your mind it was on the front face or back face, or suspended in mid air, whether it was in the top left hand corner or the middle; you may even have imagined it behind or in front of the box. Wherever you saw it, you were not wrong. But I imagine the longer you looked at it, the more possible positions you saw.
Seeing things from different perspectives extends far beyond Perspex boxes. When I’m coaching managers to get the best from their team, or training teams to improve communication across departments, or training staff in dealing with customer complaints, encouraging them to see things from other people’s perspectives is such an important part of resolving difficult situations.
One technique uses that of perceptual positions, which helps you imagine what difficult situations look like when viewed through others’ eyes, in other words to imagine what others perceive by imagining that you are that other person.
This involves looking at it from 3 different perspectives:
- First position is your natural perspective. You are fully aware of what you think and feel regardless of those around you. This is of course the perspective we find most familiar. But as you focus on it you may only then start to realise what is important to you and what you want from this interaction. You will probably become more aware of what you believe and value, and more likely to be assertive about your own needs.
- Second position is about stepping away from our own position and imagining what it’s like to be the other person, experiencing the situation as they would. The better you know and understand the person, the easier this will be.Some people are very good at considering others’ needs and concerns; for others imagining second position can be a completely alien view. When you are really in their shoes everything you do or say makes perfect sense to you.When you do this well you start to get a sense of what the other believes and values; what is important to them, and a better understanding of what they want. And the better you get at this the more empathy and rapport you create. You might even be able to predict how they might respond in this situation. You are certainly in a better position to get buy in from others, offer better customer service or to give the best support to a team member.
- Third position is an independent position where you act as a detached observer noticing what’s happening between two other people. I like to think of this as the ‘fly on the wall’ or ‘The Consultant’s perspective’ What is important is that this position is an impartial insight into a situation.Imagine you are watching and listening to each of the people involved as they communicate without getting involved yourself, without having to feel their feelings and emotions..From this new perspective, you more likely to get an overview of the situation, the bigger picture. You can start to notice patterns and become aware of similarities and differences between the parties involved, and you’re better able to analyse the situation logically with less emotional involvement. What’s also important is you can start to see yourself as others see you..From this position what advice would you give ‘first position’?
When to use Perceptual Positions
It can be particularly useful when you are dealing with a situation where you are having strong negative feelings towards the other party, or do not understand their actions.
- When a team member is acting in a way that you find destructive to the task in hand, or negative towards others in the team
- When you need the support of a colleague, but they are being obstructive
- In customer service training to illustrate how to handle an angry and (to our mind) unreasonable customer.
It doesn’t just help in negative situations, it can also help clarify the way forward in – for example – a sale’s situation, when it will help to see things from the clients’ position, or in a consultant position to see the situation better and help the client achieve their outcomes easier.
It works best when you physically change position when moving from 1st position to 2nd position, and then 3rd position; e.g. in 2nd position move round to sit or stand where the other person would normally sit or stand when you meet with them, and when the ‘fly on the wall’ stand up and physically look down on the situation.
The real learning comes by stepping out of first position to explore second and third positions and see what light it sheds on a situation.
If you only do one thing: Get to know and understand your team members, and what’s important to them so you can imagine their perspective.