How to Deal With Clashing Perspectives

We all have a specific set of lenses that we use to see and interpret our world. These lenses are called our perspectives. And our perspectives sometimes clash with other’s perspectives.

When things are going well for us in life, our unique perspective brings us a sense of individuality and joy.

In the honeymoon phase of a relationship we feel positive about the other person’s unique perspective and call it ‘quirky,’ ‘special,’ or ‘different.’ But when the honeymoon phase is over, his/her perspective becomes less ‘quirky,’ and more ‘wrong’ or ‘annoying.’

There are generally three factors that contribute to a clash of perspectives:

Perspective Clash #1: We try to be experts of somebody else’s story

Conflict in relationships often crops up because we not only see with our unique lenses, but we also interpret what we see and make conclusions. 

For instance, at work your boss may have shut her door just as you were approaching her office.

You observe her action of shutting the door. You feel hurt or unsure why she did this.  You then interpret her action and conclude, “she doesn’t want to talk to me.” 

Your conclusion causes you to worry further and wonder what you did to upset her.

You can go through this whole interpretation process and conclude that she is upset with you, even though your boss never said she didn’t want to talk to you. Nor did she tell you she was upset with you. 

Perspective Clash #2: We interpret things in private

Our interpretations and conclusions are often done internally and privately. So you will likely try and guess the reasons why someone did or said something internally first before asking them.

During this private, internal conversation with ourselves we often think things like, “How could he? I just knew he didn’t care about me.” “He’s so selfish. I always knew he only cares about himself half-the-time.”

Perspective Clash #3: We’re easier on ourselves than others

People in conflict are more likely to believe that the other person’s actions are due to personal issues or personality flaws, rather than situational factors beyond their control.

Yet, when it comes to ourselves, we often tend to attribute our own bad behaviour to situational factors beyond our control, rather than personal issues or personality flaws. 

This means we tend to go easy on ourselves and blame circumstances rather than our own personal shortcomings.

For example, we might frequently show up late to work, but insist that our time management skills are fine. We might explain our behaviour as, “the bus was late, so that’s why I’m late.”

But if others are frequently late for work we might be more apt to think it’s because they’re ‘lazy’ or ‘poor planners.’ 

Fortunately, there are three strategies that can help you overcome perspective clashes:

Strategy #1: Ask questions to clarify

Get curious about another’s actions. Invite others to share their interpretations. Rather than already concluding another person’s motive, ask them directly about their motive.

Ask questions that name rather than blame. 

This means describing the specific action. Avoid placing your own interpretation of ‘why’ in the question because people get defensive when you already have decided why they did something.

For instance, in the example above, rather than asking, “Why did you slam the door on my face and try to avoid me?” try saying, “I noticed you shut your door as I was approaching. Was it not a good time to talk?”

Strategy #2: Make your interpretations public

Be honest and transparent about how you see the world.

Share your understanding of what’s going on by making an ‘I’statement: “I feel/think __________. “

The important thing with ‘I’ statements is that you name and not blame. After saying, ‘I feel/think,’ directly name the emotion you have.

Also avoid saying, “I feel you….” as this implies you have already made a decision about the person’s intentions. For example, it is more effective to say, “I feel hurt,” rather than saying, “I feel you hurt me.” 

Strategy #3: Give the benefit of the doubt

Rather than jump to conclusions about why someone did or said something, it is important to acknowledge that you may not have all the facts. 

To be open to hearing another’s perspective is what it means to give the benefit of the doubt. I means you suspend judgment until you get more information.

Next time you encounter a clash of perspectives, give the above three strategies a try. You’ll find it shifts your outlook on the person and how you interact with them.