Today’s political climate has left me angry, uncertain, confused, and disenchanted, but also engaged, amused, and hopeful—sometimes all at the same time. I have had to dig deep and take a hard look at my underlying assumptions about the world, how I live, what I believe in, my privilege, and what it means to be a woman. Recently, I vowed to become curious and to try and look at issues from several perspectives instead of my own fallback positions, and to speak to people who probably don’t think like I do.
I often tell myself, if there are two people involved there are at least three sides to the story. We often take for granted that we understand all sides of a situation. We believe our thinking is based on facts, and that of course we are “right.” This doesn’t leave much room for conversation or exploration of an issue. It also means we are only seeing one side of the story—ours. And other people are seeing one side of the story—theirs. The third side comes in as the part of the story or issue that maybe neither person sees or remembers, or an alternate way of interpreting what happened.
Thankfully, through my consulting work, I have often been called on to step back and get curious about uncovering multiple sides. Much of the work I’ve done involves working with people to implement changes to the way they were currently doing things. It often means people have to let go of how they think things should be, or it requires them to act in new and unfamiliar ways.
For some people, it’s easy; they could see the reasoning behind a recommended change, and they went along. Others, however, would insist that the new way would never work, so they would dig their heels in around the change. By pure accident, I learned that if I truly listened to people rather than coming back with arguments as to why they were wrong, I could figure out what they were concerned about. I learned that it was usually not a stance of defiance, but a stance of firmly believing another way was correct. (It usually only takes 45 minutes or so to get to this understanding—I timed it!) From here, we could usually work through the issue together, with both of us learning. Usually, we could work out a way to make the person more comfortable moving forward with certain changes. Sometimes that meant readjusting the original approach based on the person’s input, which often presented ideas we hadn’t considered.
Getting to a point where I came to these conversations from a point of compassion and understanding didn’t come easy at first. My initial thoughts were always something like, “Why can’t they just go along with this idea? Why do they need to complain? What is it that is so difficult to understand?” This is not always in such polite language, nor is it a productive way to get to the heart of an issue.
I’m grateful for my time honing my consulting skills because its helped me become a more patient and curious person when it comes to interpersonal conflict. Today, when I’m faced with a belief that is dissonant from my own, it’s easier for me to consider other perspectives that I might have overlooked. I can question my own beliefs, try on a new and foreign way of viewing the topic, and engage in productive conversation. I ask questions to try and understand where other people are coming from. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t, but I always come away learning something I had not thought of before.
As the polarization of our country seems to increase, it’s helpful to keep in mind that we all have room for improvement in terms of understanding one another. Although we may not always agree with other people’s perspectives, there’s usually more middle ground than meets the eye. It’s easy to uncover common goals and bonds by being curious and open-minded.