Last week a friend posted a cartoon on Facebook that purported to explain “white privilege.” This stirred up all kinds of controversy in the comments, including a link to a counter cartoon.
The trouble is I could see elements of truth in both cartoons.
It has been my observation that many, if not most (or more!), conflicts arise over a refusal to consider the other person’s perspective. Perhaps refusal is too strong, but at the very least an inability and at worst a refusal to walk in someone else’s shoes is an element of almost any conflict.
Looking from Other Perspectives:
If you want to resolve a conflict, you must begin by seeing the situation from the other person’s perspective. This concept is echoed by many experts:
Roger Fisher, William Ury, Bruce Patton:
Whether you are making a deal or settling a dispute, differences are defined by the difference between your thinking and theirs. (Getting to Yes, loc. 685)
Mark Goulston, John Ullmen:
To practice connected influence, you need to break down the barriers that keep you from knowing what other people think, want, and need. (Real Influence, p. 81)
If you want to connect with others, you have to get over yourself. You have to change the focus from inward to outward, off of yourself and onto others. (Everyone Communicates Few Connect p. 29)
People like to give things to others who listen to them, who value them, who consult with them. (p. 32)
Stephen R. Covey:
If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. This principle is the key to effective interpersonal communication. (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, p. 237)
Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler:
People who are skilled at dialogue do their best to make it safe for everyone to add their meaning to the shared pool [of meaning] – even ideas that at first glance appear controversial, wrong, or at odds with their own beliefs. (Crucial Conversations, p. 24)
There is no way to resolve a conflict until you are able to hear and understand all parties involved.
The Struggle is Real:
While it is a natural human condition to be concerned primarily for oneself, it is not conducive to living peacefully with others. Everyone has challenges. Some are monumental challenges – a family member struggling with cancer, the loss of a job and financial struggles. Others are less so – an extended bout of bronchitis, an unexpected expensive car repair. However, the size of the struggle is in the eye of the experiencer.
This became abundantly clear to my family about 7 years ago. My niece was born a micro premie, with a birth weight under 2 pounds. As you can imagine, this instigated a season of intense struggle and incredible challenges.
I am very proud of my sister and her family for how they came through the first year or so, and today they are all doing very well. However, in those early days she received very little support from her church and other friends, to my mind shockingly little. The simple reason was that the people around her had their own struggles to deal with and were unable to see my sister through her struggle.
My sister had the opportunity to become very bitter and resentful, but she didn’t. Instead she taught me the truth I am sharing with you – that everyone sees the world through their own lens, and you can’t blame them for that.
The ability to step back and view the world from someone else’s perspective requires a level of maturity not required under normal circumstances. Many people don’t recognize the need for it until they are in the moment and find themselves lacking.
A New Approach:
In the commentary under my friend’s post, most comments were between a very angry woman and a very exasperated man. In both of their comments I could hear their pain; it was clear both had had very hurtful experiences, but I don’t think they could detect it in each other. Instead, they just kept jabbing at each other, increasing the anger and resentment they already felt.
What if … just imagine, if instead of reacting out of our own hurt, maybe, just maybe, we were able to ask instead, “tell me what happened to cause you to react this way?” How could things be different if we only listened, really listened and tried to understand each other’s stories?
Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High. Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler
Everyone Communicates Few Connect: What the Most Effect People Do Differently. John C. Maxwell.
Getting More: How You Can Negotiate to Succeed in Work and Life. Stuart Diamond.
Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In. Roger Fisher, William Ury, Bruce Patton.
Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing, Gain without Giving In. Mark Goulston, John Ullmen.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. Stephen R. Covey.
Read more about my sister’s story here: Born at 26 Weeks Weighing Under 2 Pounds, This Happy Girl Shows Why We Stand for Life