Take the time to walk a mile in my shoes

Our reactions to perceptions that aren’t aligned with our own firmly-held beliefs often lead to misunderstandings and conflict

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conflictVERNON, B.C., April 6, 2017 /Troy Media/ – We learn early that not everyone shares our point of view. To understand a situation, we need to consider varying perspectives. There’s no inarguable truth for all situations.

We build understanding from inviting multiple perspectives.

Consider your emotional reaction to the idea of honesty in politics, or where to spend critical health care or education dollars, or even your view on homelessness, history or welfare management. Your opinion is nothing more (or less) than your perspective. That perspective may have been influenced over time or by the opinions of others you most trusted.

Consider the idea of walking a mile in another person’s shoes. That’s fundamentally a kinesthetic and behavioural representation. If you were to actually walk in them, you’d gather many other insights as well. There would be information you collect as you walk – things you notice or miss; things you heard in the environment around you and in your own head; perhaps words of a song or conversations with others as you wandered. These would also be important to your overall experience and contribute to your point of view.

The state of your body while walking – your posture and physical sensations – might also be a big part of that experience.

Add to all this your beliefs about what you’re perceiving. If you believe certain things, will that affect what you pay attention to?

What other perceptual filters might you have working? How do you interpret what you perceive? Are you cautious in interpretations or do you come to conclusions rapidly?

Perhaps this is the basis for all conflict: our reactions to perceptions that aren’t aligned with our own firmly-held beliefs, nurtured over time. Recognizing those biases takes a bit of effort but can pay dividends in reducing conflicts with others over the long haul.

Let’s start with the associated or disassociated perspective bias.

People who prefer an associated approach usually lean into a conversation; are animated in their communications and use a lot of gestures and imagery; and reference a lot of emotion in their conversations.

People who prefer a dissociated approach usually lean backwards; use fewer gestures and more practical language; and have a more objective approach to problems.

Both states can be useful under the right conditions. If you’re interacting with individuals in conflict (where neutrality is most helpful), a dissociated state might be best. If you’re listening to a close friend’s problem, an associated state could be more appropriate.

What about a towards-or-away-from bias? In the away-from state of mind, an individual can appear tense and rigid as they fixate on the challenges faced. In a towards state, an individual tends to be more relaxed, opportunity focused and has a more open body posture.

When making decisions, some people need feedback from external sources to validate how they’re doing. These people might not trust their judgment about how much something weighs and would rather use a scale. Or, if they’re presenting an idea to their manager, they might glance at that person frequently to gauge the approval level. Their presentation will likely lean on facts and figures rather than interpretations or opinion.

Internally-oriented people often don’t need this type of feedback. During a presentation, they’re likely focused on their materials rather than looking around the room for approval. They might rely more heavily on their interpretation of the facts to support their conclusions.

Say you’re attending a session where the presenter doesn’t look around the room very much, and they insert their opinion and their beliefs quite frequently. Some people might interpret this as conceited or arrogant. However, based on what I just talked about, you may now contemplate a different perspective. Perhaps you’ll identify that the speaker is likely internally oriented. You can then look past these cues (rather than being distracted by them) and get to the real point of the message.

It’s just a matter of our preferred point of view.

Conflict Coach Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications. Looking for content for your website? Faith is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.


The views, opinions and positions expressed by all Troy Media columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Troy Media.

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