Perceptual Positions

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Multiple Perspectives: “Take a deep breath, step back, take 10″ – these commands invite us to disengage from a stimulus/response or fight/flight situation to gain some perspective or choice. Good advice but not always easy to apply in the heat of the moment, especially when we are in conflict with another person.

If we complain to a third party about someone else, they may suggest we “step in their shoes” or “see it from their perspective” – also good advice but a challenge to put into practice when you are experiencing righteous indignation and we are more inclined to set the other person’s shoes on fire rather than to step into them.

Multiple Perspectives Practice

There is a technique, if practiced, that can help you to see things from multiple perspectives, including your own, the other person’s and gain insight into the contextual forces that are driving both of your behaviors. With this insight you will have choice over your emotion, communication and actions, you will have Self-leadership.

This technique called the ‘Step Back Process” works because you have the ability to think about your thinking; without moving a muscle you can shift mental perspective and notice what you are thinking and feeling relative to a stimulus, whether that be person or an event. As mentioned  earlier, this is easy to do when you are calm and much harder to do when you are angry and plugged in which is why it is good to practice this with something that is not a 10 on your emotional scale. Think of something that annoys (a 2 or 3 on your emotional scale), such as somebody cutting in front of in traffic.

Developing multiple Perspectives

Even with this low level trigger it is difficult to see the world from the other person’s view, but if you instead shift your perspective to be an observer of the incident. Imagine you are standing on the sidewalk as neutral observer of both cars, what would you think and feel then? You would be able to see both points of view, you could empathize with both drivers who are trying to do their best to get where they are going as quickly as possible in traffic.

We have all experienced the observer position, for example, when two friends or associates are quarreling and we can see both sides of the argument. What we need to do is to train ourselves to take this observer position in our own lives. When we feel triggered we need to make it a habit to ‘step back’ into this observer perspective as soon as possible, because from this point of view we can be curious about what made us react, we can examine our frames of mind and assumptions and from here we can make better choices about how we act.

First perspective is from our point of view. Second perspective from the ‘others’ point of view. Third perspective is the observers point of view. when we train our self to go to third perspective first, we can then explore positions one and two in way that will get useful information.

There is a fourth perspective in any communication or conflict, this is the ‘context’, ’system’, ‘culture’ or the ‘rules of the game’. In my traffic example the system would be the road rules and the context would be any changes in the environment, such as road works. At work the system could be a standard operating procedure and behavior could be affected by the organizational culture.

To really understand why we behave the way we do and why others do what they do we must learn to operate from multiple perspectives. To just think you are right and they are wrong is immature and selfish; people do what they do because it feels right to them but when we work together we must consider what is best for ourselves and the group. When we take responsibility for our perspective and invite others to do the same we can communicate at a much higher level and give ourselves the flexibility to update our perspective with new information.

Is operating from multiple perspectives easy? Of course not, when we are tired and stressed it is easy to be hijacked by our emotional self and see the world in black and white, right and wrong terms.

Is operating form multiple perspectives worthwhile? Absolutely, the more we can do this the more leadership we can exert – over ourselves and the situation. So, step back and take a deep breath and observe your situation anew.

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