How do you reconcile the chasm of misconception when you see a person do one thing and find it normal and harmless and your friend sees the same thing only views the action as mean and intentionally harmful? Yes – perception once again dear reader……that instigating vagabond who roams through our subconscious mind and applies an endless series of filters and screens to what our eyes see before our minds have a chance to evaluate what was actually seen. Perception can, and truly does, color, shade, distort, twist, contort, and alter all that we see. It takes all the prejudices, ideas, and experiences that we have picked up along our way in life and applies them to whatever it is we are trying to assess and understand, skewing the reality with our internal biases.
I took a course titled Critical Thinking many years ago; twice in fact, in high school and again in college. It attempts to help the actor, the observer, peel away the layers of intentional deception imposed upon you by the originator, as well as the unintentional ones self-imposed by our own filters. Seeing the truth for what it is always difficult and can be quite impossible sometimes depending upon the emotional depth of the triggers and the associated preconceptions – right or wrong. But we have to at least learn to try, to see from the other person’s perspective. There is never one singular view; there are always multiple angles – perspectives – and it is imperative we try to keep that in mind whenever we are in a situation where you and someone else are not seeing eye to eye.
Easier said than done though.
In the heat of the moment, it is incredibly difficult to swallow your emotions sufficiently to examine the perspective of the other person. It is a learned response; it takes practice and a concerted effort to manage any level of success, and at that it is still a crapshoot. And it is made all the more difficult when you don’t even know the other person’s issues and what in their past may be distorting their view (from your perspective). How do we reconcile it? Sometimes we can’t. Sometimes all we can do is recognize that an internal filter is coloring what they are seeing and know that you may not be able to resolve it immediately; you may have to wait for a less emotionally charged moment.
We all have the (inherent?) presumption that out perspective, our point of view, is the right one. I question the “inherent” notation in my comments because I am not convinced that we are born quite so self-assured, so….arrogant. Yes – arrogant; perhaps presumptuous is a better word. I think we develop as humans, pick and choose what we like, what we believe in, what we honor, and what we respect. We do so with genetics (nature) and observation (nurture), at first parental and then societal. And we find ways to reinforce what we hold as dear to our principles (and we are so incredibly good at sifting through the chaff of our daily inputs to find those kernels that support our internal belief system and discarding those that contradict it). So as we grow in age, we grow in confidence in our belief system and often, it is well set and established before early adulthood. From there, the mind grows stronger in resolve and shrinks in its tolerance for differing perspectives.
Opening the mind to alternative views, different ideas, opposing or conflicting perspectives is extremely hard and grows increasingly so as we age. It actually required a direct conscious effort on our behalf. And woe to the one proposing an opposite thought or idea to us, especially if we have no interest in trying to open our filters, our apertures, to allow a different perspective to enter our mind for consideration. Witness the snipes and outright assaults on….pick your social media: Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram….it is everywhere. I – sadly – have been steeped in it more than once; “restraint of pen and tongue” as the quote states should be our goal – self-control.
I learned this, or began to learn it late in my career. I was as brash, brazen, and arrogant in my years in Facilities Engineering as likely anyone you’ve ever seen. (But deservedly so <chuckle>) Truth be told, I did not start like that because upon entry into that arena, I knew next to nothing about boilers or steam heat, chillers, air compressors, and certainly not electricity and high voltage electrical systems. But let me tell you, I learned and I learned well. I reached the point where I essentially saw streams of green 0’s and 1’s (think Matrix) – I saw the facility and its systems in the purest form and I saw how best to maintain them. It was truly an exceptional time in my career. And I was hard set in mind and action on how to care for our sprawling facility; what was best for it and when to do it. I read voraciously to continue expanding my knowledge, but quickly became strongly opinionated on what I read – who was right and who was wrong. I acted almost autonomously in my role; I knew what the heck I was doing, no one else could tell me what to do, and everyone else knew I knew what I was doing. I was open, honest, and transparent and was always readily willing to explain anything in detail to anyone on why I was doing something, but don’t try to tell me to do it differently!! I ruled my staff with humor but with very strong and clear direction and little room for debate.
And then I became a manager and everything changed. To manage effectively, justly, properly there were two things I began to recognize: you need to lead by example but you also have to listen to people, not just hear them. Listening is an intentional overt act and is imperative for a manager. Head nods, uh-huh’s, OK’s, and superfluous acknowledgements are inadequate and are a completely unsatisfactory and improper response for a manager. A good manager has to stop what they are doing: stop typing on the computer, ignore the ringing phone, disregard whatever tones the cellphone is making and make eye contact with the person. And then listen to their words; ensure you understand them. Give them credence. And then thank them for sharing their thoughts with you.
But now you are in a precarious position – an employee has offered you their thoughts and ideas – they’ve poured out their heart and soul and shared personal feelings and you need to treat those thoughts gently and you need to provide them every bit of your due consideration. You cannot allow them to bare their soul and then discard them carelessly or capriciously. You won’t have a staff left within weeks if you behave like that. You need to “noodle” their thoughts and words….consider them, ponder on the value and worth and applicability….you need to adjudicate them.
However there will be times, often, where your own internal beliefs or thoughts – your personal perspective – will attempt to distort or filter your employee’s ideas. And you absolutely cannot allow that to happen. You need to learn to see things objectively, not from the left or the right but from above, looking down in your best attempt to see the whole picture and not just your eclipsed view. This is critical to effective employee relations and their emotional well-being. And frankly, you will win as a manager because trust me – no one is always right – there is always value in a fresh view, a different perspective. I continued trying to do this well and often right up to the day I retired and actually, continue to do so with some younger folks who I still try to help through email and texts. The real trick though, is to take this lesson and apply it to life outside work; in traffic, in the crowded store, online with social media. And that is the dragon which I continue to attempt to slay daily……