There will most likely come a time – if it hasn’t come already – when you will work with someone with whom it seems lives in a different reality than you.
You might be their boss, they might be your boss, you might be colleagues.
“That’s what you think just happened?” you might catch yourself asking them in your head.
Given each of our individual life experiences – and the environments we grew up in – we arrive at every scenario in life with a subjective lens through which we interpret the world.
When you think about it, it’s surprising we mutually share the same perspective with others as much as we do!
There are so many different life imprints on all of our minds that shape our perception of the world it’s a wonder we ever see things similarly.
Working with someone that sees the same situation completely different requires navigation skills.
How do you get on the same page? First, it’s important to…
REALIZE YOUR OBJECTIVITY IS ACTUALLY SUBJECTIVE
There’s a term in social psychology called “naive realism” that was developed by researcher Lee Ross that needs mentioning when we talk about seeing reality differently than another.
Naive realists believe they see the world objectively, that they have a rational explanation for why they see the world as they do.
Furthermore, anyone who disagrees is clearly irrational for whatever reason: perhaps they’re biased, perhaps they’re uninformed, perhaps they’re influenced by another irrational person.
Ross and colleagues cite three major tenets to naive realism (they use first person for ease of language):
- I see things as they are – my interpretation is unbiased, incorporates all relevant information and I arrive at conclusions dispassionately and objectively.
- Others who have been exposed to the same information as I have will arrive at the same conclusions as me, presuming they are as open-minded as I am and process information as thoughtfully and objectively as I do.
- If someone doesn’t agree with my perception, it is likely due to three possible causes:
- a. They were exposed to information I wasn’t, but if this information was provided by an equally objective source then we will arrive at the same conclusion once I know this information as well.
- b. They are lazy or irrational in one or more ways that prevent them from perceiving situations objectively.
- c. They are biased due to some ideology, self-interest or “other distorting personal influence.”
The problem with this approach is we don’t arrive at conclusions about social interactions the same as we do about the physical world.
We don’t see how our brain constructs the physical world for us; it just does it automatically, and we then believe what we see. Thankfully, we all – for the most part – believe in the same physical world.
We also don’t see our brain constructing the social world for us, so we therefore believe it to be just as true as the tree standing before us, but this is problematic.
As researcher Matthew Lieberman puts it:
When confronted with trees, shoes, and gummy bears, our brains construct these things for us in similar enough ways that we can agree on which to climb, which to wear, and which to eat. But when we move to the social domain of understanding people and their interactions, our “seeing” is driven less by external input and more by expectation and motivation.
Since we all have different sets of expectations and motivations happening within us, our interpretation of the social world is going to differ significantly more than the physical world.
We thus become just as confident that John in Accounting is to blame for everything wrong in the office as we are about a tree being a tree.
The truth: we don’t arrive at our opinions objectively.
MANAGE YOUR EMOTIONAL RESPONSE
You want to give yourself a fighting chance at relating to the other person for the sake of the ultimate goal. This means you have to manage your emotional response to situations.
Reacting out of the immediate emotion will cloud the situation.
Also, the more you indulge your immediate emotional reactions the less control you’ll have over them, which can snowball and lead to worse outcomes.
Realizing we all have different perspectives makes each of our perspectives subjective, as difficult as it may be for us to accept when we feel right about something.
Nevertheless, remembering this when faced with someone who doesn’t see what you see helps to manage the emotional response.
SEEK THE TRUTH
Forgive me, I’m going to get a little new-agey right now:
Seek their truth.
See how wise it looks when it sits alone in the center? But seriously, trying to understand why someone thinks the way they do grows your leadership skills.
Try to exercise patience to understand how they think, to clue you into their worldview. This requires making a choice to try to understand them or not. Building these listening skills creates rapport, which allows for smoother negotiations.
Before you create a wall between you and the other person in your mind, ask them to tell you how they arrived at their opinion.
EXPRESS YOUR POV
Once you have a better understanding of the other person’s perspective, you can then express your point of view.
Focus on the ultimate goal. Be mindful of the words you choose and the intent behind them. Try to keep what you say pointed towards the ultimate goal, arriving at a meeting of the minds, and keeping the immediate – potentially negative – emotion at bay.
This shouldn’t be about winning, it’s about finding reality – tempering the natural “I’m right” competitive nature. Insisting we’re right is what heightens emotion and diminishes the chance for seeing eye to eye.
BUT STILL, HOW DO YOU GET AT THE FACTS?
- Provide evidence. If, for instance, you have a colleague or employee that insists they met their deadline, you can point to an email chain that indicated the true deadline and then the date that their work was turned in. Whenever you can provide cold evidence, do so, as that will help refute subjectivity.
- Conduct a 360-degree evaluation. It’s easy for someone to deny whatever it is they’re being blamed for if it’s a one-on-one interaction between you and them. If, however, there is input from everyone with whom they work that corroborates your point of view that’s hard to dispute. If they say “personal skills aren’t my problem” and you have an anonymous 360-degree evaluation from their work peers that indicates they don’t get along with them, the proof is in the pudding.
- Get a coach. This is helpful for you and everyone. An objective third party like a coach can help you (or the person whose reality you don’t share) gain perspective. A good coach won’t automatically say “you’re right,” but rather work to see a situation from all relevant angles.
If there’s one main take-away here it’s that – when it comes to the social world – all of our realities are subjective.
This isn’t to say that you’re wrong. Refuting your reality is a recipe for madness. It is to say, however, that there is more than one viable interpretation of events.
Allowing opposing viewpoints into your worldview expands your mind, promotes empathy, and keeps us all humble.
You don’t have to agree with someone who doesn’t share the same reality as you, but you do owe it to them to listen and try to understand where they’re coming from.
And they owe it to you as well.