The world from a different lens
Category : Mandlovu's Thoughts and Growth
One of the things that makes the world interesting and keeps it moving is the fact that it is made up of diverse people, with different backgrounds, beliefs, experiences, abilities, expectations and the like.
Conversely, the same differences make the world challenging to navigate sometimes. Have you ever been in a meeting/conversation with someone who just didn’t get it? They did not understand what you were saying to them, and what they were saying to you just didn’t seem to make sense. Then you spent the next few minutes trying to sell them your way of thinking and by the time you end the conversation both of you were frustrated and nothing came out of the conversation.
One example from my home, (might seem minor to others) opposing views occasionally resulted in one heated discussion too many. Specifically, around where dirty dishes go after a meal. When I put away dirty dishes, I leave them on the side of the sink because that leaves the sink free until I decide to do the dishes, my sister on the other hand puts the dishes in the sink so that they are out of the way. She would get really cheesed off when I left the dishes on the side and I would feel the same when she put the dishes inside (I know some of you are thinking why don’t you just wash them straight away but don’t judge me – I digress). This resulted in a lot of frustration and shouting until we both decided to try and sell our preferred method of putting away dishes to each other. Although we chose not to agree, we finally realised that this was not malicious or personal, and had to accept each other’s differences without any expectation that the other would change. However, we did try to accommodate each other – she appreciates when I then put the dishes into the sink and I appreciate when she leaves them out.
Meeting and talking to new people can give us a new perspective of viewing different aspects of life. When trying to build relationships, knowing and actually taking an interest in the similarities and differences without forming or expressing judgement is critical. Even more so when working together, we need to identify how best to maximise interactions even when opinions or viewpoints are very different to us.
I admit, I did not always take this approach in trying to understand other people. If I did not agree, I would quickly project judgement which is absolutely detrimental (I learnt the hard way) to any hope of building an effective relationship, as it assumes some level of superiority or inferiority. I was talking to a friend and asked if he played any sport, and he said golf. With my non-existant golf experience of golf (I had never really even watched it on TV), my response was ‘that’s not a real sport, I would be bored stiff if I was stuck on a golf course’. Immediately, the tone of the conversation changed-he was more closed off. Stephen Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective People) calls this kind of response ‘Evaluating’- this is when we listen to someone with an intent to respond and by so doing we judge and then agree or disagree. In his book, one point he belabours is ‘Seek first to understand, and then to be understood’ (the 5th habit).
I had the same discussion with another friend and instead of chiming in to tell him that I did not believe his choice of sport was worthy of my time, I decided to keep this discussion about him and try to understand why he enjoyed golf. He explained how he found it relaxing when he was faced with a vastness of green space, he spoke about the skill required to hit the ball and how it helped him focus. This made me try it and see if it worked for me too – maybe it would change my unfounded perception of the sport.
On reflection, the way I handled both responses to the same question were completely different. One led to me leaving one friend annoyed and I came across as insensitive and ignorant while the other response led me to getting a better understanding of the sport and its benefits. I went to a driving range and played a round of golf. A few days later, with my tail between my legs I had to go back to the first friend and apologise for my previous comment as I had actually enjoyed the game. It is not my sport of choice but I have a better understanding of it and its benefits, and when next invited to the green, I will put on my cap and go out to enjoy good conversation and practise swing technique.
When we encounter people with different views, Stephen Covey provides an alternative approach in order to avoid conflict-think win-win. This means approaching the situation with integrity and sticking with our true feelings and values and express ourselves with courage, and consideration of the other person’s ideas and feeling whilst maintaining the abundance mentality-there is enough room in the world for both ideas to co-exist. Making this a habit and seeking to understand before being understood is critical when interacting with people with different backgrounds or views and is a perfect platform to learn more about the world around us from someone else’s perspective, which challenges our ideas, our processes, and if we take it well it can be a positive learning process. When we do not open ourselves to trying to understand, we settle for accepting preconceived notions that are sometimes as shallow as the non-existent foundations that they are built on.
By making a conscious effort to understand, we show respect to others (and they sense this) and place value on the diversity that comes with living amongst others, rather than the quick defensive demeanour that largely projects ‘I am smarter than you, you idiot, how could you even think that?’ That is not to say that your ideas or the way you do things is wrong but sometimes it may be helpful to appreciate that there may be other ways to reach the same conclusion.