Changing Perspectives

Today, I learned something important. In theory it should be an open secret but realizing that I can use this insight as a practical tool in everyday’s communications was like a Heureka for me. It’s about changing perspectives.

A few weeks ago, my business partners and I decided to cooperate with another team to jointly found a new company. The other team brings in experiences and expertise in different areas which would be perfectly complementary to our own expertise. My partners and me, we know each other very well – to the extent that each of us thinks to know what the other one would do or say in a specific situation.  That level of understanding can’t be expected when new members enter the team. Typically, everybody has to get used to the others, learn how they think, act and react – and what do they mean when they say something. At a certain level of professionalism, with every team member equipped with a few years of teamwork experience, that should be of no fundamental problem. And yet, it is a challenge.

Image an upcoming meeting of your new and bigger team with a potential customer. You talk about what to expect from the meeting and how to present your new company. You agree on the theoretical level and one of your team’s members creates a presentation. The feedback you get from the new team members is that they not only don’t like the contents of the presentation but they expected a very different style.
This feedback contains two different aspects:

  • The previous agreement based on a theoretical or oral level can’t be achieved on the execution or practical level.
  • There are fundamental differences in how team members want the company to be presented

Let’s start with the first aspect: a mismatch between the theoretical/oral and te execution/practical level is a wellknow flaw in all kinds of businesses. Everybody whi is used to attend business meetings is fully aware of that. And there are tools to minimize or eliminate that problem: attendees repeat in their own words what others have said before, meeting notes, etc. So, in our case, I wasn’t really surprised about it and there are several ways of optimizing here.

The more difficult aspect seems to be the secnd one: imagine you have been active,y – and somewhat successfully – presenting your ideas, products and services for quite a few years. You have developed a certain style. Your team agrees on that style which is the result of your team members’ experiences. Now, new ream members expect something totally different. And not just something different, but a style you have learned to dislike and not to apply for certain reasons.

What to do – how to react? My visceral or emotional reaction was: ok, give them a second chance, they just didn’t get ist. Their expertise is in a different area, they should accept our expertise here and let us do our stuff. But – I felt bad bad thinking that way – it was one of those rypical cognitive dissonances which appear from time to time. Sure it would be wrong or unfair to react as described above. Those guys are new in the team since we think that it’s better with them as without them. So it should make more sense to find a way to implement, integrate or add their ideas in/to our ideas. But, how?

My answer: change perspectives. A rather mundane approach you might say, but – is it really? Forcing myself taking their perspective and trying to see things through their eyes I learned something very useful.

My first insight: the ability to change perspective is something I have to renew and train on a daily basis. I tend to think that I am right and the other person is wrong – or – that my way of doing things is superior to others, at least in my fields if expertise. By defining that this does not have to be true I stop thinking/ acring egoistically and make the change of perspectives possible.

Next, I ask myself – and/or the other team member – why he thinks different. What might be the reasons for him to come up with a solution I would not choose? In our special team member case I asked myself first and found some quite convincing arguments for the other’s perspective. When it comes to business, you can easily evaluate most strategies: how sucessful have they been in terms of revenues, costs, profits, etc. In our case it’s obvious that our new partners have been used their styles very successfully in the past. Since we have been sucessfull as well, the difference could lie in different target groups. It turns out that we indeed have been targeting different kinds of people and departments within corporations. So the key to our apparently incongruous strategies could lie in different target groups and not how we see our company or how we expect ourselves to act in general.

In hindsight, this conclusion seems to be a pretty basic one. But as long as was confronted with two apparently incongruous ways of making business it was quite hard to resolve that conflict. By changing perspectives and trying to find good argument’s for my counterpart’s argumentation I was able to recognize that the problem was not about different styles but about different situations or frameworks bith of us had been working in most of the times.

How did we solve the problem: we agreed about using slightly different styles for different target groups and situations – presented by the team member who is most comfortable with it.

For me, this experience once again shows that even when you are equipped with a good chink of knowledge in this area, solving communicational problems is a daily challenge. The trap of not changing perspective is always there and it’s always directly in front of me.

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