I am doing a lot of work on communication at the moment and a quote that keeps me in a more open-minded space when hearing a view that I disagree with (and there are a few at the moment) is:
‘It is well to remember that the entire universe,
with one trifling exception,
is composed of others.’
John A. Holmes
Depending on your opinions and beliefs, 2016 could well have been an excellent year or an ‘annus horribilis’. Either way, you’ve probably had many conversations with people who had different, seemingly opposite, opinions and beliefs to you; people who you previously thought were perfectly reasonable and well-intentioned. The thing is that they also thought that you were a reasonable, well-intentioned person and now you and they are confused.
It is hard to have a calm discussion when feelings are surfacing and tensions are rising and I am practising every day to try to see the world from the other person’s perspective. One great image that helps me and my clients is from the book ‘Fierce Conversations’ in which Susan Scott talks about a beach ball.
If you imagine that the beach ball represents the topic under discussion, or the problem requiring a solution, and you are standing on one side of it, what you see is not the whole beach ball. What you see is your side of the beach ball – your perspective. And your perspective is true for you.
Now imagine that you are talking to someone who cannot see your side of the beach ball. They see an entirely different side, a different ‘reality’. This is no less valid but of course you cannot see it.
The key is to want to see it so that you are more informed. You need to be curious and ask questions until you understand what the other side of the beach ball looks like and hope that the other person, or people is or are interested in doing the same. This has the advantage of stopping you become entrenched in your view and trying to convince other people that you are ‘right’. Wanting to be right is one of the biggest blocks to finding the best solution or making the best decision based on understanding the whole of the beach ball.
I remember John Maxwell talking about new leaders going into an organisation. Everyone is watching to see what they will do and the new person feels pressure to make an impact; to prove themselves. Too often they begin to change things without taking some time to understand how they came to be like that in the first place. It may take a little longer but it shows respect for the people and their experience – we have all worked for people who do not – and it is better that doing something quickly and having to undo it!
So when you next read an article or a social media post or talk to someone who does not see your side of the beach ball, don’t try to convince them of what you see. Begin with finding out what you cannot see and remember that the relationship is more important that being ‘right’.
Jill Saville is an Executive Coach, trainer, speaker and writer on the subjects of leadership and communication. She is also the chair of the British Chamber of Commerce People and Leadership Group which in 2017 is running Breakfast Meetings on the Art & Science of Communications. The first on is 15 March at Badenoch & Clark