The art and science of perspective-taking

By Shari Storm, CCE

As I prepare to leave Verity Credit Union, I’ve spent considerable time thinking back on the lessons I’ve learned and the people who have taught me.

Early in my career, as part of our Verity University, I did a 360 evaluation. Co-workers below me on the organization chart, equal to me and above me all completed anonymous surveys. I just found the survey while going through my old files.

“Ask more questions. Take more time to listen.” I’m not sure who gave me that feedback, but it might be some of the sagest advice I’ve ever received.

In his fabulous book, To Sell is Human, Daniel Pink explores the importance of perspective-taking. Perspective-taking is sort of like empathy, but with your brain instead of your heart. It’s basically stopping to consider another person’s perspective every time you interact with them. It’s especially critical during negotiations.

Pink describes a fascinating 2008 experiment in which a group of negotiators was divided into pairs. Each pair was given the same, seemingly impossible task: to sell a gas station at a price that was too high for the buyer to afford.

A third of the pairs was told to consider what the other person was feeling—to empathize. A third of the pairs was instructed to concentrate on what the other person was thinking—their perspective on things. The last third was given no instructions at all.

What happened? The empathizers struck many more deals than the control group. But the perspective-takers did even better: 76 percent of them managed to fashion a deal that satisfied both sides.

If this experiment holds true in real life, then how do we use perspective-taking to our advantage?

One of the most important things I’ve learned over the years is that my assumptions of how others view the world are often wrong and sometimes very wrong.

How can you be better at understanding those you are working with? Here are three tips:

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