Touchstones: A Communication Pathway

Part Five: Perspective-Taking: Mine, Yours and Theirs

            Understanding the perspective of the self and others is a powerful human cognition, often elusive and essentially a result of one’s personal opinion and belief system. Differing motivations, expectations, knowledge, or even visual perspective can lead people to interpret the same event very differently, and a failure to recognize these differences can lead to mis-communication and conflict (e.g., Pronin, Puccio, & Ross, 2002).
Many argue the correctness of their perspective based on a thorough review of the facts. Yet facts are often selected as a result of personal bias and what supports one’s own perspective. Oftentimes, in the legal profession you will hear a response “it depends” to a specific question you may ask. It is this notion of perspective informing this response. It depends on the perspective of the judge, or it depends on the nature of the opposing party. Or it depends on the vantage point coming from a specific leader of that particular government, organization or family and the history and experience that informed them. After some time, it becomes hard to tell what came first, the facts or the perspective. This is reminiscent of the historical cognition versus emotion debate: which comes first the cognition or the emotion? The answer, it depends.

Allen (2008) notes that perspective has a direct relationship to the level of control one has over one’s life. Someone with disorganized thinking or a disorganized and chaotic life can easily lose the ability to see beyond the moment. In the intense stress of conflict, this chaos may escalate creating even greater drama and panic. Perspective is the key, but it is a very slippery commodity. It can be lost in an instant. (2008, p. 45).” Perhaps, Anais Nin best described perspective by noting, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”