What do you see when you look at this picture? A vase? Two facial profiles? Once your eyes see one, it becomes quite difficult to make the shift to noticing the other. Our vision typically defaults to that which we first saw. In other words, we see what we are used to seeing.
The same is true in our work life. Each of us has a unique view of the world. We may pigeon-hole ourselves into various groups like liberal or conservative, executive or front-line, religious or spiritual, and high-value or low-value. The danger is that we tend to view our coworkers through the same lens with which we view ourselves. And judge them accordingly. We tend to make our view or approach the “right” one. It’s simply human nature. When our perspective becomes rigid, however, we deny others the right to their own. Shifting perspective is vital to minimizing workplace conflict, increasing cooperation, and enhancing organizational output. Shifting perspective affords us the opportunity to understand that our coworkers have reasons for the actions they make and their process behind them. From our ingrained and stilted perspective, we miss out on the value of others.
We recently came across a tale (credit unknown) that exemplifies the power of shifting our perspective. A tall man and a short man were walking through the woods. Suddenly, a wild boar came charging at them. The tall man was able to swiftly catapult himself to safety by grabbing a nearby tree branch and scurrying up the tree trunk. The short man, frantic and fearful, glanced around and…alas! There, covered with some brush was a hole. He dove to safety. Meanwhile, the wild boar busied himself with sniffing around the tree trunk and hole in the ground. He quickly bored and began to mosey on his way, just as the short man popped his head out of the hole. Eyes wide with fright, the short man dove back down into the hole as the boar came charging once again. Over and over, the boar tired of his search and the short man enticed the boar by popping his head out of the hole. Eventually, the boar tired of the dance and wandered away. Certain that all was clear, both men emerged from their hiding places. The tall man, exasperated, yelled at the short man, “What is wrong with you? That boar would have gone away a long time ago if you hadn’t kept popping your head in and out of the hole! Are you crazy?!?!” The short man, sweaty and out of breath, stated simply, “I was trying to get away from the tiger.”
Everybody has a “tiger” that motivates them to do what they do. The trouble is, most of us are unable to see that tiger. Our rigid perspectives afford us the luxury of sitting in a lofty position, surveying others and making assumptions. To truly cooperate and engage in understanding (and meaningful) working relationships, we must exercise a shift in perspective: to attempt to see that which is invisible. That means cutting back the shrubbery (that is, our own ideas, wants, and needs) so we can look upon our coworkers with understanding and genuine interest to learn from them. Dare to explore an alternative perspective and help them fight their “tiger.” This is not a requirement to agree and embrace your friend’s tiger. It is simply a call to understand that a tiger, other than your own, exists and influences those around you.