How to Really Understand Someone Else’s Point of View
The most influential people strive for genuine buy in and commitment — they don’t rely on compliance techniques that only secure short-term persuasion. That was our conclusion after interviewing over 100 highly respected influences across many different industries and organizations for our recent book.
These high-impact influencers follow a pattern of four steps that all of us can put into action. In earlier pieces we covered Step 1: Go for great outcomes and Step 2: Listen past your blind spots. Later we’ll cover Step 4: When you’ve done enough… do more. Here we cover Step 3: Engage others in “their there.”
To understand why this step is so important, imagine that you’re at one end of a shopping mall — say, the northeast corner, by a cafe. Next, imagine that a friend of yours is at the opposite end of the mall, next to a toy store. And imagine that you’re telling that person how to get to where you are.
Now, picture yourself saying, “To get to where I am, start in the northeast corner by a cafe.” That doesn’t make sense, does it? Because that’s where you are, not where the other person is.
Yet that’s how we often try to convince others — on our terms, from our assumptions, and based on our experiences. We present our case from our point of view. There’s a communication chasm between us and them, but we’re acting as if they’re already on our side of the gap.
Like in the shopping mall example, we make a mistake by starting with how we see things (“our here”). To help the other person move, we need to start with how they see things (“their there”).
For real influence we need to go from our here to their there to engage others in three specific ways:
- Situational Awareness: Show that You Get “It.” Show that you understand the opportunities and challenges your conversational counterpart is facing. Offer ideas that work in the person’s there. When you’ve grasped their reality in a way that rings true, you’ll hear comments like “You really get it!” or “You actually understand what I’m dealing with here.”
- Personal Awareness: You Get “Them.” Show that you understand his or her strengths, weaknesses, goals, hopes, priorities, needs, limitations, fears, and concerns. In addition, you demonstrate that you’re willing to connect with them on a personal level. When you do this right, you’ll hear people say things like “You really get me!” or “You actually understand where I’m coming from on this.”
- Solution Awareness: You Get Their Path to Progress. Show people a positive path that enables them to make progress on their own terms. Give them options and alternatives that empower them. Based on your understanding of their situation and what’s at stake for them personally, offer possibilities for making things better — and help them think more clearly, feel better, and act smarter. When you succeed, you’ll hear comments like, “That could really work!” or “I see how that would help me.”
One of our favorite examples involves Mike Critelli, former CEO of the extraordinarily successful company, Pitney Bowes. Mike was one of the highly prestigious Good to GreatCEOs featured in the seminal book by Jim Collins on how the most successful businesses achieve their results.
One of Mike’s many strengths is the ability to engage his team on their terms to achieve high levels of performance and motivation. When we asked him about this, he said, “Very often what motivates people are the little gestures, and a leader needs to listen for those. It’s about picking up on other things that are most meaningful to people.”
For example, one employee had a passing conversation with Mike about the challenges of adopting a child, pointing out that Pitney Bowes had an inadequate adoption benefit. A few weeks after that, he and his wife received a letter from Mike congratulating them on their new child — along with a check for the amount of the new adoption benefit the company had just started offering.
When he retired, the Pitney Bowes employees put together a video in which they expressed their appreciation for his positive influence over the years. They all talk about ways that Mike “got” them — personal connections and actions that have accumulated over time into a reputation that attracted great people to the organization and motivated them to stay.
It’s a moving set of testimonials, and it’s telling about Critelli’s ability to “get” people on their own terms — to go to their there — that they openly express their appreciation permanently captured on video for open public viewing.
Remember, they did this after he was no longer in power.
Like Mike Critelli does, when you practice all three of these ways of “getting” others — situational, personal, and solution-oriented — you understand who people are, what they’re facing, and what they need in order to move forward. This is a powerful way to achieve great results while strengthening your relationships.
When you’re trying to influence, don’t start by trying to pull others into your here. Instead, go to their there by to asking yourself:
- Am I getting who this person is?
- Am I getting this person’s situation?
- Am I offering options and alternatives that will help this person move forward?
- Does this person get that I get it?
By Mark Goulston, M.D., F.A.P.A.
This article originally appeared on hbr.org