Lenses magnify objects. They focus vision and sharpen insight. But lenses also filter, color, and distort. We have all accumulated sets of lenses during our lives through which we experience the world. They affect what we see and what we hear. They even influence the way we feel. Two people with different lenses may experience the same event in different ways; they might hear the same message with different meanings. Effective communication is not only a function of how clearly you talk but also of how accurately other people's lenses permit them to hear.
You cannot control or even influence the lenses through which others perceive you or how they respond to your gestures. This adds to the complexity of leadership. (You are in a state of leadership whenever you are trying to influence the thoughts, attitudes, or behaviors of others).
In his New York Times
piece on March 24, Peter Baker uses the idea of lenses to explain how three successive US Presidents failed to comprehend the character of Vladimir Putin:
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]They saw
him through their own lenses, believing he viewed Russia's interests as they though he should. And they underestimated his deep sense of grievance.[/quote]
Here are two skills to help reduce distortion in your own lenses and in the lenses through which others experience your communication:
- Hone your own perception agility to see the world through other people's lenses, not just through your own.
- Develop penetrative communication skills, enabling you to penetrate--with minimum distortion--through different lenses that people tend to use.
The section on lenses in our Lead by Greatness courses
gets some of the highest ratings. Once the principles of perception agility
and penetrative communication skills
have been grasped, awareness of them, a little coaching, and some practice transforms people's communication effectivenss. In the meantime, here are some things to try:
To develop perception agility:
- Notice when you have reacted negatively to a comment or action. You will experience it either as an unpleasant emotion or a physical sensation, like tensing up or grimacing.
- Pause. Take a breath. Try to describe the comment or action in your mind without assigning a value judgment to it, no matter how much it irritated you.
- Become curious how people with different belief sets or cultural perspectives from your own might react differently to that same comment or action.
To develop penetrative communication skills
- Use genuine gestures of authentic concern for and connection with others when you communicate.
- Avoid triggering others into defensiveness by saying anything they could experience as negative judgment or condescension.
- When offering criticism, reference the way you experience their behaviors or actions (how it felt like for you when they did or said what they did), rather than cast aspersions on their intentions.
Become increasingly conscious of how, at times your lenses could distort your interpretation of words and deeds. The Putins in your life may not look as "straightforward and trustworthy" as George Bush experienced him, or as "constructive" as President Obama found him. On the other hand, once you remove your lenses of assumption and bias, many people will emerge as gems of resources willing to help you. Clear lenses focus your vision and sharpen your insight.