Perspective Taking—Opening the Doors

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In 1984 I was madly reading books as part of the literature search for my dissertation. My dissertation advisor, David Keirsey, had made a link between the four temperament patterns he has observed and four of Eduard Spränger’s value types, so I needed to know more. I read Spränger’s Types of Men, written in the 1920s. In it, he described 6 different value types—Aesthetic, Theoretic, Economic, Religious, Social, and Political. I was intrigued by an example Spränger used of describing a book through the perspectives of these six types. Once I learned about the four value types that related to Keirsey’s four temperament patterns, I found I could listen for the perspectives that people were coming from much more quickly than I could if I just tried to identify their type or the temperament based on other descriptions. At that point in my life, I wasn’t really aware of the value of perspective taking, but this experience got me started on a journey of seeking to understand people in a way I hadn’t before even though it started out as just in the interest of identifying their temperaments. I started listening for their perspectives rather than just to identify their ‘type.’

As we developed applications of temperament and type to teams and communication my colleagues and I added a perspective shifting activity to our workshops. That activity has come to be referred to as the “car activity” and is written up in Understanding Yourself and Others, An Introduction to the 4 Temperaments and is one I always do when working with the temperament lens. Only later did I discover how perspective taking is one of the most valuable uses of type information, if not THE whole point of it all.

My biggest insights came from learning from Terri O’Fallon’s explanations of how we start off our lives fused with our own perspectives. Certainly we can see this in infants and young children who only reference themselves. However we see this in people of all ages in some areas of their lives. As I understood what I heard Dr. O’Fallon say in an interview, there is a developmental sequence that we go through as we develop our capacities to take perspectives. In the beginning we are fused with our own perspectives and views of the world. We don’t even know these views as something separate from ourselves. Indeed we don’t even recognize that there are other views. Then we become aware of different views or perspectives, but we still think our own is better. As we develop, we begin to see value in the other perspectives and eventually develop the capacity to hold and integrate those perspectives in some way. We can even start to take perspectives on perspectives.

So what is perspective taking? A dictionary definition can get us started: a perspective is “a way of regarding situations, facts, etc, and judging their relative importance.”  I think of perspective taking as the ability to understand someone else’s perspectives as well as being able to identify your own view as a ‘perspective.’ There are several kinds and levels of understanding. We can ‘get it’ conceptually and see their point of view. We can ‘feel it’ and know what their experience feels like. In addition we can see its importance.

In order to take perspectives, we need to be able to identify those perspectives as separate from us. Type lenses can open a door to development since they give us maps for identifying some of our own perspectives. I often say that type lenses can give us a way to become aware of some of our unconscious operating systems. They give us a language to talk about those perspectives and we are then no longer completely fused with them. Type lenses help bring some of our more fundamental perspectives into awareness and help us appreciate the contributions of perspectives other than our own. Take a look at the different lenses and see how the core needs, values, talents, drivers, beliefs and so on can become perspectives.

A word of caution: Type lenses can also shut the door on development if there is not also a map for type development and if the type categories are presented as ‘either/or’ rather than ‘this/and.’ Be aware that in the beginning people tend to have a very object-oriented, utilitarian approach and shift perspectives in language in order to get someone to do something or understand their view. That can easily be manipulation, not perspective taking. For perspective taking, we need to see the contribution and value of the other perspectives. This can help increase the likelihood of authentic perspective taking that leads to true collaboration and connection.

Why is it important? We all need the capacity to know our own perspectives so we don’t project them on to others and insist that our way is the right way. As perspective taking capacity increases our capacity for effective communication and conflict resolution increase. As the world increases in complexity and global connectivity, single perspectives won’t work to solve our global problems. Perspective taking is often cited as one of the core competencies of leadership. Leaders need an even greater capacity to hold multiple perspectives as they deal with multiple stakeholders and multiple interests. In addition, they need the capacity and willingness to seek out diverse perspectives and integrate them into initiatives and solutions.

Not everyone needs to develop a capacity for perspective taking to the fullest. However, it helps to open the door so they can walk through it when ready.