Many executive team members struggle to engage in the problem-solving and strategic decision-making needed in a complex environment. One reason for this is a lack of the psychological safety that makes it possible to offer new information or dissenting views, which directly affects decision quality. An obvious solution is to work on building psychological safety in the team; however, we have found that some executives are skeptical about what they see as “soft” concepts or interventions. Even when most of a group is on board, reluctant individuals — especially those in positions of power — can substantially inhibit psychological safety and, in turn, performance. Fortunately, introducing perspective taking as a skill offers an alternative way to engage skeptics and has been shown to drive performance in diverse teams.
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Perspective describes how an individual perceives their reality or a specific issue. Our perspective on any matter develops through the accumulated experiences of life — such as education, upbringing, and social context — and past experiences dealing with similar topics. In the workplace, our unique role, affiliation, and hierarchical position shape our perception of a topic, opportunity, or challenge. Teams of people with different backgrounds, diverse experiences, and multiple competencies will have a wider variety of perspectives than more homogeneous groups.
Long known as a crucial skill for innovation and negotiations, perspective taking occurs when an individual actively attempts to step outside their own perspective to envision another person’s viewpoint, motivation, and emotions. The power of perspective taking is that its approach of curious inquiry asks people to do the mental work of imagining another’s viewpoint. When we believe someone we disagree with is making a genuine effort to understand how we see an issue, we are more willing to share honest, detailed information. In this way, introducing perspective taking is a good way to build psychological safety while strengthening the skills required for a group to solve problems together.
Perspective Taking as a Path to High-Quality Dialogue
Perspective taking serves as an effective way to engage and influence leaders and executives who may otherwise be turned off by what they consider “soft” concepts. Take, for example, a study on an intervention at a Nordic bank that was focused on enabling transformation by infusing psychological safety and empathic listening into the culture.