In the world of senior leadership, where decisions carry significant weight and stakes are high, it’s not uncommon to find ourselves entrenched in our own perspectives. We sometimes prioritize, often unconsciously, “being right” over finding timely solutions to the challenges at hand. But what if we could shift our mindset from defending our truths to actively seeking a more complete picture?
Accepting Multiple Perspectives
In any given situation, we tend to regard our perception as truth. However, this truth is often subjective and based on incomplete information. Consider the scenario of a car cutting you off on the highway. Your initial reaction might be to label the driver as a reckless jerk. But what if that driver was rushing to the hospital due to a family emergency? Suddenly, the truth takes on a different hue.
The same principle applies in the workplace. Think about a colleague who hasn’t delivered on their promises and seems unresponsive to your attempts to address it with them. Your initial story may be that they are unreliable, disinterested, or even actively working against you. If you’ve experienced this behavior (or even heard about it from others) in the past, you are likely to be more rigid in this belief. Yet, without seeking more information, your perspective remains incomplete.
Entrenched in your subjective beliefs about this colleague, you are unlikely to work together toward collaborative decision-making in the future. Each repeat offense super-sizes your opinion of them, perhaps even causing any listening or collaboration to feel like permitting inexcusable behavior. You become cemented in your perspective and certain you are right.
The problem in this scenario is that we shift from wanting to solve the problem at hand—moving a project forward—and become focused on bending our colleague to our will, or what we perceive as “acceptable behavior.” We might begin to feel moral superiority about how one ought to behave.
If instead, we consider that something we cannot see is in the way of this colleague’s ability to follow through on a commitment, and if we ask questions to understand and act as a partner with them to resolve the issue, then we can actually solve the problem. The outcome might be different than we expected, but forward momentum on a slightly different path is still forward momentum.
The Power of Curiosity
One of the most effective ways to break free from the “being right” mindset is to approach situations with curiosity instead of judgment. When faced with a frustrating situation, try setting aside your initial (or reinforced) opinions and engage in a conversation. For instance, with the colleague who hasn’t delivered, you might say, “This wasn’t how I thought this would go, I’m curious, what’s going on?” This approach acknowledges your perspective of disappointment and frustration, while inviting the other party to contribute their story, thereby creating a more complete picture.
Being curious is much easier the first time something unexpected occurs. You are better able to set aside the story you are telling about your colleague in service of an effective outcome. But many leaders want to be agreeable and so “let it go.” But in reality, they have stored it away in a subconscious mental file. The next time something happens with the same colleague, that memory comes to the fore just as subconsciously as it was initially filed, justifying a snap judgement. This behavior does not make leaders more agreeable; it makes them more reactive. When you do this, you will have a harder time being curious about future incidents. Better to be curious the first time. Curiosity is not disagreeable.
Recognizing Frustration as a Signal
Frustration is often a telltale sign that it’s time to reevaluate our perspective. Unfortunately, many of us tend to double down on our initial viewpoint when we feel frustrated. We seek justification for our emotions rather than opening ourselves to alternative viewpoints.
However, embracing a more open mindset is the key to effective communication and problem-solving. It disarms defensive responses, encourages dialogue, and resolves concerns more efficiently. It also allows us to acknowledge that our initial frustration or anger may not have been justified.
The Path to Effective Leadership
It can be challenging to adopt an open and curious mindset when leaders around you are busy maintaining a facade of strength and certainty. However, it is precisely this approach that separates effective leaders from the rest. It takes the wind out of potential conflicts, promotes collaboration, and fosters an environment where truth is discovered collectively rather than through a tug-of-war.
So, the next time you find yourself wanting to “be right,” consider that your frustration is a sign to embrace curiosity, open to other stories and seek a more complete picture. You’ll discover that the power of perspective can be a transformative force, leading to more effective problem-solving and stronger relationships within your organization.