Perspective taking seems more important than ever in our increasingly complex and interconnected world. As program planners and evaluators, much of our work centers around gathering and making sense of multiple perspectives on a program or challenge. We’d like to share a simple story along with some ideas and resources we’ve curated.
A few years ago, Jennifer was strolling through Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington. She was heading to a women’s leadership retreat and arrived early to explore the area. As she wandered through the maze of fish and flower stalls, she found a tucked away corner where artists and artisans displayed locally-made crafts. A small gray ceramic dish with bold, black spirals and lettering caught her eye so she went in closer to investigate. When she was close enough she read could the words etched into the clay:
Don’t believe everything you think.
Jennifer picked up the dish so she could take a picture of it and send it to Robin, Tara, and KKaye. For the four of us, Don’t believe everything you think is a reminder of the importance of perspective taking, the ability to look at information or a situation from multiple points of view. Perspective taking helps us become more aware of our biases as we try to make sense of the complexities of the in which world we live. It’s an art, a skill, and a practice that can benefit everyone in almost all circumstances.
Join Jennifer for a 45-minute online community call on Monday, March 28 at 4:00pm (Central Time) to explore and practice tools for perspective taking. She’ll create space to explore the nuggets from in this newsletter, offer tools for personal reflection, and invite community conversation. Register here and share with colleagues and friends to invite them to join!
A belief is a habit of thought
“Neurons that fire together, wire together.” Simply put, the more a pathway in the nervous system is activated, the stronger that pathway becomes. This is true for behavioral habits as well as habits of thought (aka beliefs). Additionally, the way we perceive a situation strongly influences how we act. Check out this article published by the Wharton Neuroscience Initiative to learn more about how perspective-taking helps us by both giving us access to more information than we would have without it, and also by increasing activity in the brain centers involved in creative problem-solving.
Perspective taking can expand our story
Our minds create stories about the world based on our own experience and observations. Once we’ve created a narrative about a person, situation, or problem, we become attuned to things that confirm the story we already believe to be true. In other words, we see it when we believe it more often than the other way around. This is often referred to as confirmation bias.
Perspective taking forces us to pay attention to biases and ask questions that can disrupt habitual patterns of thought. Taking on new perspectives as a simple thought experiment can be a powerful tool for building empathy, opening up to new insights, and expanding possibilities for collaboration and action.
Simple rules for navigating perspective taking
1. Slow down to create space.
Perspective taking requires us to pause, disrupt our habitual patterns of thinking and observing the world, and use intention to get inside a different point of you. Watch this 17-minute TED Talk in which Roger Aronsen uses examples from mathematics to illuminate the ways slight change in perspective can reveal patterns, numbers, and formulas as the gateways to imagination, empathy, and understanding
2. Be open to what emerges.
As you consider different points of view, ask curious questions and journal about the answers or discuss with your team. Some suggestions include:
- What is the story I/we are telling? What’s another story that could be true?
- What assumptions am I/we making? In what ways might we be wrong or misguided?
- What would the situation look like from the perspective of….my friend? my arch rival? my client? my boss?
Know that it’s natural for discomfort to come up as you consider perspectives different from your own. Explore more about how beliefs form a part of your identity in this interactive online tool created by Clearer Thinking to support critical thinking.
3. Move forward with clarity, intention, and courage.
Ultimately, practicing perspective taking can broaden our scope of understanding. Over time, we can we can feel more confident that the decisions we make—both personally and in collaboration with others—are aligned with what matters most. This article on perspective taking by AMP Creative outlines the benefits of making perspective taking a practice both in personal and professional life. They include a daily practice that can be used any time you encounter a challenge, misunderstanding, or disagreement.