A Fascination with Difference: Part 2
By Jagoda Perich-Anderson, 2001
In Part One of this series, I argued that the future will require us to not only learn to be comfortable with different perspectives, but to become fascinated by them in order to adequately address complex issues. How then do we foster a fascination with difference?
Ask, listen and expand.
Draw out people. Nurture your curiosity. Say things like, “Hmm. What an interesting perspective. How did you come by that? Why do you think that? Tell me more.” Pretend that you are on a vacation in a foreign land in which you want to learn as much as possible.
Next, listen carefully to the answers. Set aside your judgments, preconceived notions and desired outcomes for a while. Imagine placing them on an invisible shelf near you. They will be there when you want them again. Listen for the vital essence the other person is trying to communicate– the part of the truth to which they are speaking that must be included in any solution to reach a complete and lasting outcome. Ask yourself, “What is important about this point of view that I might not yet understand?” Here is an example of listening for the vital essence. A rancher and a biologist were arguing at a public meeting on stream restoration efforts. Biologists and environmentalists at the meeting had been berating ranchers for not fencing off streamside access to cattle which causes erosion when they trample around streams in their grazing areas. A rancher said, “Look, my land has been in my family for three generations. This is my livelihood. I don’t want to destroy it. Why are you treating us ranchers as if we were the bad guys?” The vital essence of his position was that he wanted to be seen and acknowledged as someone who cared deeply about sustaining the long term viability of his land. Most ranchers were not as clear and open in their communications but felt the same way. Once the biologists and environmentalists recognized this, they changed their adversarial stance. Some ranchers, including the man who spoke, did fence off significant portions of their property to keep cattle away from sensitive areas.
Finally, allow yourself to be influenced. Expand your perspective. Embrace the vital piece of truth you heard and incorporate it into your own thinking. You will be happily surprised by the creative opportunities this will open up. New ideas will emerge that would not have been available to you before.
A husband and wife argued for years over whether or not to build a fence on their property. They lived next to his brother’s family who visited them frequently. Upon further exploration, it emerged that the husband felt a fence would be disloyal to his brother with whom he enjoyed a close relationship. The wife felt her husband was not willing to set visitation limits with his brother at the expense of their marriage. Once they understood each other’s underlying needs, the problem changed from whether or not to build a fence to how to deepen intimacy in their marriage. And once they focused attention on strengthening their relationship, the wife no longer felt a need to keep her brother-in-law’s family at bay.
Ask questions to flesh out differences. Listen for the vital essence that must be incorporated into a solution. Expand your perspective and allow yourself to be influenced. Follow those three steps and discover how differences can be generative.
Jagoda Perich-Anderson, M.A. has focused on the human side of organizations in work design, conflict management, strategic thinking, team and leadership development for more than thirty years. Where others run from conflict, she embraces it and enjoys helping people increase their skill and confidence when it comes to dealing with the more challenging side of human interactions. Currently, she specializes in multi-stakeholder initiatives where she helps harmonize different needs and perspectives toward common goals. You can connect with her on jpatango.com