Why Perspective-Taking Is the Secret Weapon of Successful People Everywhere

This article was last updated on September 5, 2017

Have you ever started to make a list of goals or objectives, only to become frustrated by the distance between point A and point B? Do you feel besieged by management duties at work? Or do you feel slightly out of your element in your attempts to reach out to your team members? Taking a few moments to adopt a different perspective than the one you currently inhabit is an effective path that will allow you to achieve the kind of success most people are only able to strive toward. Here are a few strategies for taking a step back and seeing the situation in front of you more clearly, emphatically, and thoroughly than you ever thought possible. So, as the saying goes, try walking a mile in someone’s shoes for once.

It’s All Relative

One thing I do that helps me feel better is reminding myself of my relative amount of luck and good fortune. Especially when compared to many other people in the world. There are people dealing with war or famine, people who are in prison or on parole, refugees, homeless people, and so on. Recent immigrants  are people who deal with a number of obstacles on a daily basis. They deal with discrimination, language barriers, and separation from their homeland, family network, and community.

Rutgers University shares the following anecdote from a teacher working for a diverse school via Asia Society: “I had a couple of students from the Congo, and they [shared] how their parents were hiding them under the floorboards as these people were coming in to kidnap [children]… Stories do have a huge impact on our students, especially the US-born citizens, because they’ve never really had to even think about that, let alone imagine that scenario.” Considering such situations can help us feel gratitude for our circumstances.

Imagine being on parole. Probation officers are required to limit where offenders travel and monitor their whereabouts quite strictly. For the purposes they utilize tools such as electronic ankle bracelets in order to track offenders’ locations and enforce curfew restrictions. Imagining these types of life circumstances and specific scenarios can help us put our everyday problems into perspective. They can help us realize that it is only ourselves that hold us back from greatness.

Take Fulfilling Breaks

In the midst of all the hard work you’re doing to build your company from the ground up,  it’s crucial to secure a distance between yourself and your daily goal-related duties. You should make it a point to take periodic breaks that expend plenty of physical energy and allow you to have fun via a positive outlet for excess energy. A positive mindset has been shown to encourage greater compassion, problem-solving, and creativity.

On the other hand, if you refuse to take a break, ascribing instead to an all-work, no-play mentality, the chronic stress levels that will inevitably result will prevent you from performing at your best. Part of the reason for this is that continual immersion in tasks without any time off makes it difficult to see the forest for the trees: according to Richard Boyatzis, “Strain causes a person to be cognitively, perceptually and emotionally impaired…if you’re under pressure and stress at work, then you can’t think outside the box because you can’t see the box.”

Develop Your Sense of Empathy

Thus far in this article, we’ve explored “perspective-taking” in terms of putting things, circumstances, or situations into perspective relative to other things or factors. Now we will examine “perspective-taking” as it relates to empathizing with others—or attempting to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. According to research recently conducted at Stanford University, Monica Worline says, “[M]ore compassion in the workplace in the wake of failures…is actually what helps people recover and innovate faster. There’s solid evidence that supports the link between more compassion at work and the ability to give higher level service quality across a number of industries.”

Furthermore, Worline describes four parts of compassion: noticing when others are in distress; deciding others’ distress is worthy of your time and action; feeling concern for other people’s well-being. The goal is for management to establish compassionate policies and workplace environments that incorporate things such as flexible work schedules that allow for variable clock in and clock out times—as opposed to strict rules about fixed start and end times. Invariably, research shows that greater schedule flexibility yields higher levels of employee engagement and commitment.

People are more likely to comply if they have flexibility. Research shows that when given a choice, people are more likely to accept an offer. That is because their defenses are lowered.

Aim for Status over Power

A recent article in Psychology Today explains how evaluating work performance necessitates an evaluation of both accomplishments and circumstances. According to research, “While high power may decrease people’s tendency to take another person’s perspective, high status may actually increase people’s tendency to take another person’s perspective.” Part of the reason for this is that status is based on other people’s opinions of them, whereas power has to do with how many resources are controlled; status is more interpersonal, therefore increasing one’s focus on others by necessity.

The bottom line to all this perspective-taking is that it’s important we at least attempt to relate to and empathize with others: after all, our success—as well as, arguably, the future of civilization itself—depends on it. We need each other in order to climb to the top. What are your thoughts on perspective-taking? Share your point-of-view in the comments section, below!

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