Bringing Empathy Back

We are pretty good at knowing what our point of view is (and we are pretty good at thinking highly of our point of view). We are also good at knowing when someone disagrees with our delightful point of view. We are not quite so good at understanding why they disagree with us.

The value of diversity is not just that it gives us more options —  it actually gives us the opportunity to create new options. Seeking a broad range of perspectives and ideas is not just about amassing the largest pool to choose from (though that has value); it also gives us the opportunity to recombine and synthesize — to create new options out of those that are already in place.

If I’m asking you to paint a picture and I slap some yellow paint on your palette, your choices are pretty limited. You can paint with yellow. That’s it. If I add some blue paint to your palette, now you get to choose between yellow and blue.

And.

You can also put them together.

Having two colors to choose from does not limit you to two choices, because you can mix them together and create a third choice — and even a broad range of shades in between.

Powerful stuff.

I think that when it comes to sharing our perspectives and ideas we generally struggle to go bigger and better than simply picking “the best one.” We struggle to explore the messy middle where your idea is informed by my idea and then is flipped on its head by another idea and something completely new emerges.

The ability to do this requires some empathy. We have to work toward understanding where the person with a different perspective is coming from. Do I understand why they have the perspective that they do?

The next time that you are in a disagreement with someone, try this: Try to take the third chair perspective.

Ask yourself if you can step back from the conversation and explain both points of view clearly and coherently. If you cannot do that, then you probably do not yet fully understand that other person’s point of view. You still have some listening to do, some questions to ask.

Be good to each other.

4
  1. Alicia Arenas

    Joe, I really appreciate this post. I tend to be a “black and white” person and see limited options. Your analogy is a great way for me to remember and look for other options that are available. Thank you.

  2. John Makin

    And when we understand both points of view, we are able to add definition, to build upon either side.

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