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 coöper­ate 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 sec­ond 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 typ­i­cal 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?

Don‘t Know What To Do? Change Per­spec­tives!

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.

Solv­ing Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Prob­lems Is A Daily Chal­lenge

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 chunk of knowl­edge in this area, solv­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion 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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