Do you recall the saying of “To better understand someone, walk in their shoes for a mile”?
For a lot of us that is the golden rule. If you want to understand and connect with other people the best way is to see things from their perspective.
It’s a rule that has stood the test of time and has had massive success in the past. Dale Carnegie mentioned that rule as the eighth principal in How To Win Friends And Influence People.
Barack Obama even used this principal in the United Nations when he was talking about Israel and Palestine. He used these famous words:
“The deadlock will only be broken when each side learns to stand in each other’s shoes.”
Who could argue with something like this? Perspective-taking on this level makes sense in understanding people. It’s no wonder that people are quick to jump to that, myself included.
But as a constant grower, it’s important for us to seek information and to expand our learning. We need to continue to make adjustments in our lives and make adjustments when we are wrong about something.
For me, I’m making an adjustment to this golden rule in my life. The reason being is that it doesn’t quite work as we let on.
Not So Simple
In a recent study on perspective-taking couples who have been together for several years were asked about their significant others views and perspectives. From the 20 questions, they believed that on average 13 of those guesses were correct. The average, in reality, was 5 were right.
It’s a huge punch in the gut to feel so certain, and yet be off base for most of them.
Indeed our golden rule — take the perspective of others — can help in a variety of ways. It can allow us to set aside our biases towards groups, races, and personal biases. Furthermore it allows us to be more emotionally empathetic.
But at the end of the day, those benefits create a false sense of confidence that we deeply understand those around us.
The truth though isn’t so simple.
People can change, grow, and develop.
Our perspectives can change from the drop of a hat.
We become completely different people because of that.
Even though these changes happen in spurts, we still can’t deny the fact that we change little by little. For better, or for worse.
So instead of trying to fit into peoples shoes or take on another perspective, I want to propose something else for us to better connect and grow relationships.
That is to listen to those around us.
Perspective-taking can help in a number of ways. I’m not denying that. But being in a persons shoes doesn’t help in understanding a person.
There are different motivations and reasonings that are deeply tied to the person.
By perspective taking, we are taking facts, but also bridging the gap a little with our own biases and presumptions of that person. In a sense, perspective-taking is still a form of judging others.
Abraham Lincoln once said:
“Judge not, for you would do the same in the exact same situation.”
I repeat it a lot because it’s a good one and a reminder. We shouldn’t honestly be filling the gaps with our own logic.
Instead, we want to be filling that spot up with what the person is actually telling us.
Listening takes time and even at this point we still make assumptions and judgement calls with the information that we take in. That will never change, even when advice is given.
The golden rule ran into that issue since the rule — and even our own advice — doesn’t account for the integrity of the person who is using it.
But do take some time to pause and listen to those around you.
After all, it is one Dale Carnegie’s principals as well.
To Listen Carefully
A master conversationalist doesn’t fill the gaps. Instead they listen carefully to what the person is saying. They make sure they understand what the person is saying as well.
Even though people change with the seasons, an active listener can still make it ahead in understanding a person.
The goal isn’t to fully understand a person inside and out, but to understand a person to help them, connect with them, and celebrate with them.
Listening is simple, but much goes into it. For a good listener, one needs to be:
- Participate in active listening (repeating what the speaker said back)
- Show a genuine interest in what the speaker is saying.
- And more.
Being a listener is demanding but the rewards are amazing.
But being a listener isn’t an excuse to neglect the perspective-thinking approach. After all, perspective-thinking can help enrich our understanding, but shouldn’t be the sole tactic we rely on to understand one another.
To your growth!
Eric S Burdon