Why Is It Important to Look at Things from a Different Perspective: 5 Vital Reasons.
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If you’ve watched the movie irobot, 2004, you’ll probably remember the scene where Detective Spooner chased down a robot that was running with a handbag. To the detective, it made sense that the only reason why a robot would be running with a bag was because it had stolen the bag. However, it turned out that the robot was rushing to deliver an inhaler to its owner who was asthmatic. Aside from Detective Spooner, have you ever reflected back on something you did in the past and you felt like burying your head in your pillow while asking yourself “what was I thinking?”. These and many more examples are why it is important to look at things from a different perspective before concluding.
Being able to look at things from a different point of view is called perspective-taking. Psychology tells us that we start to develop this ability from a young age (concrete operational stage) throughout our adult life. However, not many of us consciously apply this skill in our daily activities and interactions. Why?
We are hard-wired to self-preserve. Our minds will first view things in ways that will soothe us and make decisions that will preserve us. Therefore we are more likely to choose the most comforting or the easiest point of view. For example; it may be easier to conclude that a colleague we dislike was sacked for her unfriendly attitude at work than promoted for her no-nonsense attitude at work. Secondly, it may be easier for teenagers to conclude that their parents are strict and inconsiderate because they refuse to allow them to stay out after 9.30pm than to conclude that their parents are caring and wise because they are worried for their safety.
Can we develop our ability to see things from different perspectives? Yes but first we must highlight the benefits or importance of perspective-taking.
IMPORTANCE OF SEEING THINGS FROM DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES
Seeing things from different perspectives is not only crucial for our personal growth but also to the relationships and interactions we desire to have with others. Here are some of the reasons why considering other perspectives is important;
1. STABILIZATION OF RELATIONSHIPS AND IMPROVEMENT OF CONFLICT RESOLUTION SKILL
One of the biggest sources of conflict in relationships is the inability to see things from the perspective of the other person. A number of studies have linked lack of perspective-taking to social dysfunction and aggressive behavior. Lack of perspective-taking makes a person act in ways that are not considerate to other people, for example, taking or using other people’s belongings without their permission and underplaying the offense; making crucial decisions on behalf of a person without their consent; revealing certain information about a person without their permission, insisting on your own flavors without considering other people’s preferences, etcetera. When conflict arises and parties are unable to see things from each other’s point of view, sometimes the fate of the relationship hangs on a thin thread or parties develop unhealthy habits that are detrimental to that relationship. However, seeing things from different perspectives helps us to anticipate the behavior or reactions of others and therefore adjust our behavior. It helps us to negotiate fairly with others and allow for their representation where and when needed. Perspective-taking has been linked to social competence.
2. REDUCED STEREOTYPING AND BIASES
Many unhealthy stereotypes and biases we have or adopt towards people are a result of our inability to see things from other perspectives. For example, many people have had to endure discrimination and condescending attitudes of other people towards them because of the work they do. Quite often people look down on certain jobs and also look down on the people that perform those jobs. They forget that sometimes people take odd jobs because they need to survive while waiting for the job they are qualified for. Have you ever associated a person, certain racial groups, nationals, or social groups with derogatory thoughts, popular sayings, or terms? How well do you know that person or individuals in those groups? In a TEDTalk by Chimamanda Adichie titled ‘the danger of a single story’, she made many profound statements and one of them is that “It is impossible to engage properly with a place or person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person.” She also stated that we rob people of their dignity when we choose to stereotype them instead of seeking to know and understand them better. A number of studies have shown that when people engage in perspective-taking, they become less biased to outgroups and are more accommodative of differences.
3. IMPROVED LEADERSHIP
Leadership is more than just directing people and watching them do what you have suggested. Whether you are working with a team or handling customers, being able to anticipate their thoughts and interests is important. It helps you to be effective in your biddings and relationships. Perspective-taking puts power in check. It enables leaders to see the value of other people aside from themselves. When leaders see value in other people, they are able to reach out to them and this will earn them more respect and trust among their subordinates.
4. GENERATION OF IDEAS AND GUIDANCE/DIRECTION
Have you watched any animated movie where a character is lost and confused and then attempts to solve their problem by trying to know what another character would do? After they’ve asked themselves what that character would do, suddenly, there is an epiphany, a direction, or guide. An example is in the animated movie called COCO where Miguel took the perspective of Ernesto De La Cruz who always said ‘seize your moment’. There are times when we get stuck and need a new way forward. In such moments, it is important we look at things from a different perspective. It helps to give us hope, courage, and even direction. During a conflict for example, when both parties are unable to see each other’s point of view, seeking the perspective of a third party like a counselor would be very helpful. A neutral third party will provide valuable insight that conflicting parties are unable to see. At work, the input of any employee could be invaluable etcetera.
5. MINIMAL IMPULSIVE DECISIONS AND HARSH JUDGEMENTS
It is very easy to jump to conclusions when we see an odd scenario or get told a half-baked story. Just like Detective Spooner in our introduction who saw a robot running with a bag and immediately concluded that it had stolen the bag, we tend to make mistakes and costly ones, when we fail to look at things from different perspectives before concluding. Imagine a friend that comes to confide in you about the strange behaviors of their spouse and you immediately conclude that it is a case of infidelity. It could be that her spouse regularly takes trips to build that boat he always spoke about. We are not saying that patterns that guide our judgments are not true but they are sometimes wrong. There are other perspectives that need to be considered before we make harsh judgments and impulsive decisions.
HOW TO DEVELOP THE ABILITY TO SEE OTHER PERSPECTIVES
1. SLOW JUDGEMENTS AND CONCLUSIONS
The first step in developing your ability to see things from other perspectives is to withhold judgment and be slow to conclude. Even if you notice familiar patterns in a situation, do not conclude yet.
2. REFUSE STEREOTYPES
Stereotypes deprive us of adventures and curiosity. We cannot see anything new if we have concluded that a particular thing or person is a certain way. Get to know people instead of believing common stereotypes about them. Ask questions, be curious.
3. SEEK CLARITY/ UNDERSTANDING
Whenever you are not sure about a situation, instead of assuming and concluding, it is important to seek clarity. Ask for other people’s perspectives. If your partner has said something or acted in ways that call for alarm, withhold judgment and ask them to explain what they said or their actions before concluding or seeking more clarity.
4. CONSTANTLY REMIND YOURSELF THAT THERE ARE OTHER PERSPECTIVES
It is important to always remember that there are other perspectives aside from yours. For example, when faced with a problem in your relationship, remember that the problem can be viewed from multiple perspectives; your perspective, the other person’s perspective, and the third party’s perspective.
5. TRAVEL AND EXPLORE
Traveling and exploration expose a person to a lot of cultural differences and provides insight into why people do the things they do. Travelling enriches the mind and helps people to be more accommodative of others.
PITFALLS OF LOOKING AT OTHER PERSPECTIVES
1. People struggling with low self-esteem and self-worth may not know when and where to draw the line in perspective-taking. They may get too worried about other people’s points of view. This may result in the feeling of self-doubt and insecurities.
2. A person might lose their own perspective. While it is great to see things from different perspectives, learning to evaluate perspectives is as important. A different perspective does not necessarily mean that it is right and yours is wrong. Being flexible about perspectives is what’s important.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION
1. What do multiple perspectives mean?
It means multiple points of view or heterogeneous points of view. In a dispute, for example, there are three points of view. The first person, the other person, and the third person’s point of view. The third person’s point of view is usually the neutral one; someone that is not involved in the dispute between the parties.
2. Why is it important to understand perspective?
Looking at things from a different perspective helps a person to adjust their behavior when they notice it is inconsiderate towards others. It helps a person to debunk harmful stereotypes and biases towards a person, group, or things. It helps a person to build and sustain valuable relationships. A person is able to avoid costly mistakes that may arise from harsh and quick judgment.
Being able to look at things from other perspectives, which is also called perspective-taking, is an invaluable skill to have. It helps to strengthen our relationships and overcome personal limitations. It is however not easy to see things from other perspectives considering that we are naturally wired to make meaning of things ourselves. Secondly, the experiences of people might be alien to us and therefore we may not readily see things as they do. Thankfully, we can learn to develop our perspective-taking ability.
Patricia and Mike were married for 8 years. Throughout their marriage, Patricia was the breadwinner of the family. She worked 2 jobs and still returned home to chores. Her friends and family advised her to do away with Mike because he contributed little to nothing to their home but she ignored them. However, something happened that made her get a divorce. Mike had found the $5000 savings she had hidden in the wall of their basement and used it to gamble. When she discovered it and confronted him, he said he thought it was a stash left by the previous tenants and that he had used it for a venture. That was the last straw for Patricia. Mike apologizes for his error and assured her that the venture will yield big returns but she ignored him, asked him to leave, and never return. A year after their divorce, Mike sent her $20000 dollars, and apologized again for taking her money. She has recently discovered that Mike now lives a very comfortable life. She is angry and heartbroken.
Boca, S., Garro, M., Giammusso, I., & Abbate, C. S. (2018). The effect of perspective-taking on the mediation process. Psychology research and behavior management, 11, 411.
Maibom, H. L. (2018). What Can We Learn From Taking Another’s Perspective?. In Philosophical Perspectives on Empathy (pp. 74-90). Routledge.
Steven H., Perspective – Taking: A tool for Building stronger relationships.
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