Perception is reality. We have only to listen to two distinct descriptions of the same workplace confrontation to know that people in conflict view the same event entirely differently. The most astonishing thing about these opposing versions of the same event is that neither party is lying.
That’s because each of us believes absolutely in our own perception of things. In other words, each of us believes that our own subjective reality is truth, even in the face of contradictory evidence, and sometimes to our own detriment.
There are always as many sides to a story as there are tellers of the tale and there is always more than one way to view things. Realizing this and acknowledging it opens up a world of possibilities. Because when we do, we acquire the ability to shape our reality as we shape our perceptions. At the same time, by contemplating other realities and considering situations from many viewpoints we can more readily bridge the gap between opposing perspectives and gain deeper insight and understanding of the people around us.
Here are three perceptual shifts that can help us reshape our reality at work by changing the way we perceive the people and circumstances around us.
Often, what comes too easily is unappreciated. This is particularly true in relationships—both at home and at work. The people we feel most comfortable and safe with just appear when we need them. We count on their support. We anticipate their co-operation. They add value to our lives, yet we take them for granted.
Stop! Think about the people you may be taking for granted at work. Tell them how much you appreciate their contribution.
Human beings tend to dwell on the negative. This can lead to a sense of despair and apathy. Just when we think we know what to expect from people (the worst!), they surprise us with a demonstration of thoughtfulness, compassion or generosity. And how do we respond? We ignore the evidence of good intent and cynically wait for the other shoe to drop, increasing our own despondence in the process.
Instead, focus on the positive. What you see is what you get—and what you look for is what you see! Make a commitment to look for and respond to the silent majority of decent, hard-working colleagues instead of ruminating on perceived slights and sources of frustration. Become an optimist and avoid the devastating effects of apathy.
Change the Focus
When you find yourself in conflict with a colleague who just doesn’t seem to be able to grasp your point of view, take a step back. Consider moving into the role of objective observer—pretend you’ve been invited to mediate between two strangers. Once you distance yourself from your own desired outcomes, you might better understand your colleague’s point of view. As Stephen Covey put it, “seek first to understand.” In the grand scheme of life and work, it’s more important to make progress than to be right, and all it takes is a little shift in perspective.
The one thing you bring with you into every interaction and situation is yourself. If you regularly stress about your work environment, or find yourself facing the same workplace conflicts over and over, it’s time to consider your role in creating the circumstances you face. Use these three strategies to create a simple shift of perspective that can help re-shape your workplace reality.