As social beings, we tend to surround ourselves with people like us when it is those who are different that help us challenge our perspectives and assumptions.
It feels good to be around people who get us and see things the way we do because it is validating.
When we are with people who see or do things differently it isn’t always easy. It can feel annoying and frustrating when their efforts or behaviour don’t meet our expectations. And communication can be challenging.
It’s often hard to stay curious about another person’s story or perspective when you have your own, especially if (only secretly) you are thinking that it’s only yours that can be right. Afterall, your perspective is so different from theirs that it makes so much more sense to you!
It can even lead to disagreement and conflict as emotions take over, making it difficult for us to listen to the other person.
The irony is that it is often the people who are least like us, the ones we find the most annoying and frustrating, that can support us to challenge our perspectives and assumptions and help us grow and develop the most as individuals.
Let us take CliftonStrengths as an example. The assessment includes thirty-four strengths of which we typically play to our top ten with the ability to partially see the perspectives of the ones from 10 to 15. Which means we are completely blind to 50% of the perspectives of the people around us who do not share the same strengths as us.
On the basis statistically that it would take 170 years to get good at all thirty-four strengths, every single one of us has perspectives we are blind to and assumptions we hold because of the expectations and needs of our strengths.
The only way for us to see the other perspective and gain a 360-degree view of a problem or a situation is to collaborate with people who are not like us.
This is even more important when you consider studies by the Korn Ferry Institute which highlight that ignoring the perspectives of others in the areas where we are blind can be hugely problematic for organisations.
Leaders who dismiss the perspectives of others can fail to inspire or build talent and instead under-leverage their team’s ability and undermine other’s contributions.
They spend most of their time working independently or with other likeminded people, ignoring the perspectives of others who do not see things the same ways as they do.
Whilst it can be uncomfortable being around people who are different from us, when we can stay curious and be open to hearing other perspectives, it can expose us to new ideas and ways of thinking.
We can learn new skills, develop empathy, identify our weaknesses and biases, and expand our understanding of the world.
When we only seek out information that confirms our existing beliefs, we fall into the trap of confirmation bias which can be dangerous because it prevents us from learning from our mistakes.
In a study of teams across 20 different countries led by Peter Hawkins, author and Professor of Leadership at Henley Business School, they discovered a common pattern of behaviour in teams:
‘Organisations and teams tend to recruit and promote people who are most like existing members, which increasingly diminishes diversity…arriving at decisions by collective discussion that develops ‘groupthink’’.
In his book ‘The Wisdom of Crowds’ James Surowiecki provides numerous stories of how individual experts are less accurate than diverse groups. He concludes it is better to trust a group of people with varying degrees of knowledge and insights than leave it in the hands of one or two people, no matter how smart they are.
When we only seek out information that confirms our existing beliefs, we are less likely to challenge our assumptions and consider alternative perspectives. This can lead to a false sense of confidence and prevent us from identifying and correcting errors in our thinking.
We only need to look at history to see that are plenty of stories that teach us that this is true.
Being around people who have different perspectives and strengths helps us see things from different angles and to challenges our assumptions. When we stay curious and make intentional choices to listen and understand their perspectives and assessment of an issue or situation, we learn and grow and broaden our view of the world.
One way to make this easier is to use the ‘and stance’. This means acknowledging and considering multiple viewpoints, rather than just one or the other.
For example, an “and stance” approach would involve saying something like “I understand where you’re coming from, and I also see it from this other perspective.”
It involves recognising that multiple perspectives can coexist and that one’s own perspective is not necessarily the only valid one. You can think you are right, and the other person can be as right as you are. They might have done something you are not happy with, and you will have contributed to that as well. They can think they are doing their best and you can think that it is not good enough.
By taking an “and stance,” we can open ourselves up to a more nuanced and empathetic understanding of others.
Your perspective can be true alongside others at the same time and as you listen and share you might change how you see things and learn something new.
Or maybe not and that’s ok.
The most useful question you can ask is: ’now that we understand each other’s perspective, what’s a good way for us to manage this and move forwards together?’