One of the largest obstacles in communication, relationships, and creating empathy is perspective. This issue emerges from how our brains see the world and remember events. We all think we see things clearly, but in reality, all of us are wrong in that respect. All of us view things from our own unique set of experiences and beliefs, which in turn skews the way we see the world around us. This gets even more confusing when we try to communicate our “reality” to others, since now we are comparing two different “realities” both of which are different from the actual “reality”.
To help teach people to avoid this bias in perspective in my Roll Models workshops, I tell people to become a “mental optometrist”. Most of us are familiar with the process of going to the optometrist, looking through various sets of lenses, having the doctor say “is it clearer now, or now?” until the clearest picture is found. The doctor then gives us our prescription and off we go. We can apply this same practice to how we listen and communicate. When trying to empathically listen to someone, we need to take off our “mental lens” and put on theirs. By looking through the “lens” of their experiences, we can more clearly understand the thoughts and feelings behind what they are trying to communicate to us. Although at first the picture may be fuzzy, the more you do it, the clearer it will get, and the better your communication and relationship will be.
I had to teach myself how to do this almost as soon as I learned how to talk. My experience, due to living life disabled and in a wheelchair, is quite different from most people in my life. This difference in experiences has made my perspective of the world unique from that of a “normal” person’s. When I was younger, I would get frustrated that I couldn’t explain things in a way that people could understand. Once I learned to look at things a little differently, more from their point of view, I found that communication became much easier.
Despite the difficulties that our various perspectives can create in effective communication, I see these differences as a blessing. Our own unique perspective is what makes up a huge part of who we are. If we all saw life through the same “lens,” people and life would be a lot less exciting. My “reality,” although it hasn’t always been easy, has taught me so much about life and molded me into the man I am today. It is also what has given me the knowledge and ability to help all of you through my Roll Models program, and I would not trade that for anything.
The next time you are having a real conversation with someone, give this a try. Stop looking at the situation through your “lens” and try on theirs for a while. It takes some practice and lots of patience, but you will be amazed at how much this can change the way we see things and how much easier communication becomes. As always, if you try this, leave me a comment to let me know how it goes.