Tips on Perspective Taking

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Tips – July 2018
Turning to Wonder: Tips on Perspective Taking

One of the touchstones of the approach developed by the Center for Courage and Renewal is titled “When in Doubt, Turn to Wonder.” (www.couragerenewal.org) This topic was our featured blog post for June, which you can read here.

On a daily basis we encounter people, sometimes lots of people, who view things very differently than we do. This difference in perspective can catapult us quickly into conflict, or at the very least, awkward and uncomfortable emotional states. We make assumptions. Often, the foundation for these difficulties is holding on to the belief that there is ONE RIGHT WAY to do something or think about something. That one right way (usually MY way, no?) can easily get us into trouble. Instead of holding on to my way, a useful alternative is opening ourselves up to other perspectives, turning to wonder. July’s TIPS describe several situations where turning to wonder can be really helpful in getting to a better outcome AND preserving relationships.

  1. Group discussions

You are a leader, working with several colleagues, presenting your group’s ideas for a change in an employment policy. You all have put a lot of thought into this proposal and are really pleased with the final product. You are surprised, no, shocked even, when you start to get push back from the administrative team. You feel upset and try to calm yourself down. You are ready to tell them your group’s reasoning about WHY this is such an improvement over the status quo. STOP. Instead, Turn to Wonder. How about:

I wonder what you see as the biggest issue with this proposal? Biggest plus?
I wonder if there’s a middle ground we could reach together?
I wonder what other ideas you have that we might not have considered?
I wonder what will happen to our recruitment and retention if we continue for the next 3 years with the same policy?

  1. Family dinners

At dessert, Uncle Joe brings up his concerns about the stifling effect of politically correct language. You can’t believe it. You have managed to get through almost the entire dinner without being railroaded by Uncle Joe again. You think you should start to educate Uncle Joe about oppression and how insensitive non-politically correct language can be. You start to launch into your speech with, “well, you know, Uncle Joe, some people… “ when something holds you back. Turn to Wonder. What would happen if you try this?

Uncle Joe, I wonder, have you ever been in a situation where someone used slang around you and you took offense? How about if someone called Aunt Susie a “hillbilly” because she was born into a poor family in Kentucky?
I wonder where we might be today without “politically correct” language?
I wonder how the term ‘politically correct’ muddies the water and makes things even more confusing and awkward?
I wonder what you would rather see instead?

  1. Negotiating with a spouse

John and Barbara are discussing the family budget, and John is advocating for buying plane tickets in November for a big international trip in April of the following year. John created the budget spreadsheet like that, with the timing in November. Barbara reacts, saying they can wait at least 2 more months so their new budget can include the airfare. John reacts, replying that “I know the budget, it’s in there, and we don’t need to wait to make sure we get the flights and seats we want.” He wants to continue in the vein of “and you’re so cautious. . . we don’t need to be so cautious” when something makes him slow down. This is a perfect time for Turning to Wonder.

I wonder what she’s thinking?
Does she remember we already talked about this or has she forgotten?
I wonder why she’s reacting. . . could it be me?
Could she have a perspective I don’t know anything about?

  1. Counseling an employee

Brenda asks you if you have a minute to chat near the end of the workday. Sure. She then tells you about an interaction she witnessed between another employee (Sam), and a customer. Brenda believes Sam was being way too abrupt with the customer. She heard shouting and saw the customer leave. Brenda approached Sam after the customer “stormed off in a huff”. “Sam,” she said, “That sure was a problem! I have never heard you talk like that to someone before. What did you say to make her leave?” She goes on to say that Sam acted surprised that she would accuse him like that. You swallow and think about helping Brenda Turn to Wonder.

Brenda, I wonder how Sam interpreted your comments to him.
I wonder how you could have helped him calm down, (maybe save face if it was appropriate,) and reflect on the exchange.
I wonder what else might have been going on for Sam?
I wonder what effect watching the interaction had on you?

  1. Listening to yourself

You have a friend that you find difficult to be around sometimes, and even your spouse has trouble spending time with him. You both find it very easy to speculate on Bill’s issues and find yourself limiting the time you plan to spend with him, even though he really needs a compassionate ear. Turning to Wonder might look like this.

I wonder why I react so much to Bill. He needs a good friend and I can be that for him. Why is it so hard for me?
I wonder what happened to Bill in his younger days that makes him so “scattered”?
I wonder what would happen if my spouse and I intentionally spent more time with Bill, rather than less?
I wonder what Bill would say about being around me?

In all of these situations, the Turning to Wonder examples are open-ended. Wondering does not answer a simple yes-no question; it expands the possibilities, the likely discussions, and the potential for deeper and more satisfying relationships. . . at work, at home, in the world, and with yourself. We would love to hear from you about your applications of Turning to Wonder.

Jill Bachman, MSN