A Cup of Leadership CaffeineOne of the most common tripping points of both early-career and experienced leaders is assuming that people are looking at issues and drawing similar conclusions.

A leader explains the issues, offers a rationale for her suggested actions, heads nod, a few questions are exchanged, and then she leaves the meeting satisfied that all is clear and people are on board.


Heck, ask three people to stare at the same rock and describe what they see and you’re very likely to get three very different answers.  In his wonderful book on creativity, Thinkertoys, Michael Michalko describes a scenario where two people might look down a city street and one would be in awe of the lighting and shadowing and the other is disgusted by the rubble, garbage and broken concrete.

I see this a great deal in my MBA classes (and I imagine that it happens in online MBA programs, too), where experienced professionals people read common articles or view the same video, yet observe very different issues and draw different conclusions.

And of course, we see this in the workplace all of the time where groups of individuals come together to solve-problems or identify ideas to exploit opportunities.  Sometimes the different perspectives drive creative solutions and on many occasions, they create conflict. In the latter scenario, attempts to reduce or end conflict often end up in a series of compromises, that when assembled, fail to fit the original issue.

Your goal as a leader must be to help create a common picture and to facilitate the development of creative solutions.  This starts with recognizing that differences in perspective are the building blocks for creative solutions.

7 Suggestions for Leveraging the Different Perspectives on Your Team

1.  Accept that initially, almost no one will see the situation the same way that you do. This important recognition allows you to facilitate a process that will clarify and enhance the picture and improve the quality of potential solutions for everyone.

2.  Let people see the problem and discover potential solutions for themselves. The power of observation is infinitely more powerful than your power of explanation. Indicating for example that a step in the customer support process needs to be changed because of complaints is subject to debate and disagreement.  Alternatively, listening to audio exchanges in the call center or observing transactions in a store are much more convincing.  Observations offer clarity and create opportunities for “A Ha” moments and ideas that may prove far superior to the initial solution.

3.  If opportunities for observation aren’t readily available, use stories and pictures to get your point across. Relate experiences or wrap problems in stories to take an otherwise sterile issue and make it real.

4.  Recognize the need to let people catch up. When you approach someone on a topic, their mind is likely somewhere in a different galaxy than yours at that point in time.  Your extra effort to both allow time for people to “galaxy jump” and your patience in providing context for a situation will improve the effectiveness of the communication process.

5.  Encourage questions. Even if people are silent for a few seconds (seems like eternity), resist the urge to fill dead air with more content.  Silence often equals processing…not lack of understanding.

6.  If possible, ask people to think about a situation and come back at a later time and offer thoughts and ask more questions. If the situation is particularly difficult or political, use techniques that depersonalize the questions and comments, including advance submission or writing down thoughts and submitting them anonymously during meetings.

7.  And most of all, don’t take it personally when people don’t immediately line up behind you either on understanding an issue, understanding your perspective on the issue’s importance or on agreeing with your proposed solutions.  Your response at this peak point of confusion and disagreement will govern the health or dysfunction of the dialogue moving forward.

The Bottom Line for Now:

The wonderful thing about working with others is the diversity of ideas and perspectives that can potentially be developed to solve problems and seize opportunities.  While disagreement might seem like conflict, it is fertile ground for creation.  Embrace it and leverage the varying viewpoints for your organization’s benefit.