Whether it’s relationships with friends, family or co-workers, it’s never been more important to be there for one another than it is now. As we all adapt to the new normal, everyone is going through something different. Some may be experiencing financial worry, others may be having anxiety about their health, or for many people it’s job concerns. The list is endless.
The most successful relationships are based on understanding each other’s perspectives. But sometimes this is easier said than done.
Seeing other people’s perspectives
“Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.” – Dr. Alfred Adler
Effectively understanding someone else’s perspective requires adding an element of mindfulness, compassion, and empathy to our relationships.
When people try to understand the mental states of others, it is referred to as theory of mind.1 This requires shifting from your own state of mind to someone else’s. To do this effectively, you need consider their individual characteristics and personality. How does this play into their mental state and their actions? By asking this question, we’re better equipped to listen and respond with compassion and empathy.
Overcoming differences in reality
Understanding someone else’s perspective and being empathetic towards them may sound like a simple process. Listen to them and imagine yourself in their shoes. But what if their shoes are very different to your own?
For example, if you’re an extrovert, you may not be able to understand the fear an introvert would have about leading a big presentation. Likewise, if you don’t have kids, you may struggle to understand how demanding being a parent can be.
But, when you put theory of mind into practice, you may start to see more of that person in yourself.2 This can increase social bonds and reduce stereotypes – bringing you closer together, and making you more aware of issues you may not have previously considered.
Four tips to help you understand someone else’s perspective
- Be curious, and use open-ended questions or statements.
Ask questions such as:
“I’d like to learn more about that. Can you, please elaborate?” or
“That’s an interesting perspective. Can you share more about that?”
- Listen, listen, listen.
Don’t listen with the intent to discredit or disprove someone’s perspective. Practice active listening to truly hear what they’re saying.
- Be genuinely engaged.
Don’t multi-task or appear to be disengaged when you’re seeking to understand someone’s point of view or perspective. Be present and ready to learn with an open mind.
- Make sure you understand what they’ve said.
In tough situations, it’s easy to misunderstand or mis-communicate how you feel. Try to ensure understanding by repeating back what they said in your own words. And remember to follow-up at a later time to keep the dialogue going.
Taking time to incorporate these four simple steps into your conversations can help you build genuine connections with those around you.
1 “How the Theory of Mind Helps Us Understand Others”, Cherry, K., verywellmind.com, April 2020.
2 “3 counter intuitive ways to take on another person’s point of view”, psychologycompass.com, 2020.