By: Shaila Anjum
One of the most frustrating things in any type of relationship is being accused of selfish acts you didn’t intend or know were being seen as selfish. For example, you take off your wet snow boots and put them on the shoe rack. Your roommate comes to you and tells you they have had enough and they have been patient cleaning up after you but now it’s too much. You have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. Turns out, after some heated arguments, your roommate bought a shoe tray for wet snow boots that is sitting outside the door of your apartment in the hall. Putting your shoes on the rack was causing them to drip and create a mess that your roommate had been cleaning. Sometimes, you simply just don’t know you are doing something that is hurting someone else. That is why communication and understanding perspective is so important!
In the beginning stages of a relationship, many of us often shy away from having certain conversations in an attempt to stay away from sounding too serious or too needy. But, some of these conversations will help you better understand your partner and avoid future conflict. These are the conversations that help you see the world through their eyes.
Remember, your perspective is YOUR reality, but it is not THE reality. You get closer to reality by having the ability to see and understand different perspectives that can potentially exist within the whole concept of one thing, time or situation. Forbes council member and leadership consultant, Steffan Surdek, describes what shapes your perspective, such as “... life experiences, values, (your) current state of mind, (and) the assumptions they bring into a situation...” (Surdek, 2016). Now imagine those seemingly insignificant life experiences you’ve had that may have played a role in how you see certain things in life. Everyone's life experiences and perspectives or constantly being changed every single day. These changes can be miniscule that add up and become larger, or they can be something significant to begin with. For example, anything emotionally traumatizing like a breakup can change your perspective on how you envision ‘love’ to be. Seeing children being disobedient to their parents may impact how you view ideal parenting to be. If you see similar behaviour on multiple occasions, it may begin to impact your parenting style whilst seeing one single occurrence may not.
Now imagine, if every life experience has the potential of changing your perspective - it has the same effect on other people. There is almost always a reason why someone sees things the way do. Truly understanding a person, seeing things in their perspective, changing your perspective, allows you to react to a situation differently. The same principle applies to all kinds of relationships - strangers, acquaintances, your kids, nieces, nephews, all family members, significant others etc. Changing your reaction can be as simple as seeing things differently. This skill is not only helpful in personal relationships, but also professional ones, hence why it is a popular topic of study in business, leadership and other fields.
Co-Director of the Cooperative Learning Center at the University of Minnesota, David W. Johnson, describes 5 key aspects to perspective taking (2019):
1. Understanding others perspective.
2. A person’s perspective determines what they give attention to.
3. Perspectives change!
4. People will interpret the same thing in different ways.
5. Misunderstandings are rooted in the assumption that everyone should or does see things in the same way as we do.
Highlighting number 5, misunderstandings are rooted in the assumption that everyone should or does see things in the same way as we do, and number three, perspectives change, are two very important factors to focus on! We expect things to stay linear, but no one's mind works that way! Our experiences are constantly reshaping our perspectives and they may differ from those around us in one way one day and another the next, because perspectives change!
This article’s purpose is to help be more mindful of differences in point of views and to give us a friendly reminder to clarify, even if you think your assumption is correct. The person you are talking to will appreciate you did!
Johnson, D. W. (2019). The importance of taking the perspective of others. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/constructive-controversy/201906/the-importance-taking-the-perspective-others
Surdek, S. (2016). Why understanding other perspective is a key leadership skill. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2016/11/17/why-understanding-other-perspectives-is-a-key-leadership-skill/#2fbbdae56d20