4 ways to increase your perspective taking capacity

Einstein – “A problem cannot be solved with the same level of thinking that created it.”

The ability to simultaneously hold a number of different perspectives is a very difficult thing to do. Many of us struggle being open to opinions, behaviours and ideas that are different to our own. Often, things that are ‘different’ or relate to change can create tension – leading us to act in ways that reduce the uncomfortable feelings of anxiety. An example of this is explained in the article Lingerie football and perspective taking capacity where I experienced what I call an cognitive ‘tug-of-war’.

Within the current literature open-mindedness is a distinctly different concept to perspective taking capacity. However, I believe they are implicitly linked and more importantly, both are vital ingredients for effective leadership.

Open-mindedess is defined as the willingness to search for evidence against one’s favoured beliefs, plans or goals. It involves being able to change one’s mind in light of new evidence and not jump to conclusions. Open-minded individuals are less swayed by singular events, more resistant to manipulation, better able to predict how others will behave, less prone to projection and do better on cognitive ability tests.

Perspective taking capacity is the ability to take a perspective that makes sense of what is going on in oneself, others and the wider organisation. It involves the capacity to understand, critically consider, and integrate multiple competing perspectives that guide actions. Robert Kegan defines this ability as the ‘self-transforming mind’ in his theory of ‘orders of mind’. 

So why is it important to be open-minded and able to hold multiple perspective?  

Think about the best manager you ever had. What made them so great? What behaviours did they display? How did they compare to the worst manager you have ever had?

I have asked this question at many leadership development sessions and I tend to get a similar response. Chances are you thought about the times you felt your opinions and ideas were taken seriously, when you were listened to and felt appreciated.

As a leader, being open-minded to others perspectives – that means not only asking for input but also taking it seriously –  as well as being able to understand others from their perspective is truly powerful.

How can you build your perspective taking capacity?

Unlike Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela, we are not all born with the natural ability or inclination to hold multiple competing perspectives. In fact, most of us mortals find this to be very difficult, particularly when it involves a task or project that we feel passionate about, or have limited time to accomplish.

Here is a list of my top 4 ways to increase your ability to be open-minded and hold multiple perspectives.

1    Select an emotionally charged, debatable topic (e.g., abortion, prayer in school, politics, the war in Iraq) and take the opposite side from your own. Write five valid reasons to support this view.

2    Remember a time when someone wronged you in the past. Generate three plausible reasons why this person inadvertently or intentionally wronged you.

3    Think of a topic that you consistently argue about with your teen, partner or co-worker.  Now, take their position and think of 3 substantial reasons why their point of view is valid.

4    Practice mindfulness as a tool to reduce your reactiveness and enhance your ability to create choice points in difficult situations. Mindfulness involves consciously bringing a non-judgemental awareness to your here-and-now. It can be practiced through guided meditation, breathing exercises, yoga or progressive muscle relaxation.

In addition, an effective evidence-based coach can help you develop and grow through one on one developmental coaching.