27 September 2023

Getting along with colleagues who seem to share a different reality

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Nicole Lipkin* says working with someone who sees the same situation differently requires special navigation skills.

There will most likely come a time – if it hasn’t come already – when you will work with someone with whom it seems lives in a different reality than you.

You might be their boss, they might be your boss, you might be colleagues.

That’s what you think just happened?” you might catch yourself asking them in your head.

Given each of our individual life experiences – and the environments we grew up in – we arrive at every scenario in life with a subjective lens through which we interpret the world.

When you think about it, it’s surprising we mutually share the same perspective with others as much as we do!

There are so many different life imprints on all of our minds that shape our perception of the world it’s a wonder we ever see things similarly.

Working with someone that sees the same situation differently requires navigation skills.

How do you get on the same page?

Realise your objectivity is actually subjective

We don’t see how our brain constructs the physical world for us; it just does it automatically, and we then believe what we see.

Thankfully, we all for the most part believe in the same physical world.

We also don’t see our brain constructing the social world for us, so we therefore believe it to be just as true as the tree standing before us, but this is problematic.

As researcher Matthew Lieberman puts it:

“When confronted with trees, shoes, and gummy bears, our brains construct these things for us in similar enough ways that we can agree on which to climb, which to wear, and which to eat.

“But when we move to the social domain of understanding people and their interactions, our ‘seeing’ is driven less by external input and more by expectation and motivation.”

Since we all have different sets of expectations and motivations happening within us, our interpretation of the social world is going to differ significantly more than the physical world.

We thus become just as confident that John in Accounting is to blame for everything wrong in the office as we are about a tree being a tree.

The truth: we don’t arrive at our opinions objectively.

Manage your emotional response

You want to give yourself a fighting chance at relating to the other person for the sake of the ultimate goal.

This means you have to manage your emotional response to situations.

Reacting out of the immediate emotion will cloud the situation.

Also, the more you indulge your immediate emotional reactions the less control you’ll have over them, which can snowball and lead to worse outcomes.

Realizing we all have different perspectives makes each of our perspectives subjective, as difficult it may be for us to accept when we feel right about something.

Nevertheless, remembering this when faced with someone who doesn’t see what you see helps to manage the emotional response.

Try to exercise patience to understand how they think, to clue you into their worldview.

This requires making a choice to try to understand them or not.

Building these listening skills creates rapport, which allows for smoother negotiations.

Before you create a wall between you and the other person in your mind, ask them to tell you how they arrived at their opinion.

Express your point of view

Once you have a better understanding of the other person’s perspective, you can then express your point of view.

Focus on the ultimate goal.

Be mindful of the words you choose and the intent behind them.

Try to keep what you say pointed towards the ultimate goal, arriving at a meeting of the minds, and keeping the immediate – potentially negative – emotion at bay.

This shouldn’t be about winning, it’s about finding reality – tempering the natural “I’m right” competitive nature.

Insisting we’re right is what heightens emotion and diminishes the chance for seeing eye to eye.

But still, how do you get at the facts?

  1. Provide evidence

If, for instance, you have a colleague or employee that insists they met their deadline, you can point to an email chain that indicates the true deadline and then the date that their work was turned in.

Whenever you can provide cold evidence, do so, as that will help refute subjectivity.

  1. Conduct a 360-degree evaluation

It’s easy for someone to deny whatever it is they’re being blamed for if it’s a one-on-one interaction between you and them.

If, however, there is input from everyone with whom they work that corroborates your point of view that’s hard to dispute.

If they say “personal skills aren’t my problem” and you have an anonymous 360-degree evaluation from their work peers that indicates they don’t get along with them, the proof is in the pudding.

  1. Get a coach

This is helpful for you and everyone.

An objective third party like a coach can help you (or the person whose reality you don’t share) gain perspective.

A good coach won’t automatically say “you’re right,” but rather work to see a situation from all relevant angles.

If there’s one main take-away here it’s that – when it comes to the social world – all of our realities are subjective.

This isn’t to say that you’re wrong.

Refuting your reality is a recipe for madness.

It is to say, however, that there is more than one viable interpretation of events

Allowing opposing viewpoints into your worldview expands your mind, promotes empathy, and keeps us all humble.

You don’t have to agree with someone who doesn’t share the same reality as you, but you do owe it to them to listen and try to understand where they’re coming from.

And they owe it to you as well.

*Dr. Nicole Lipkin is an organizational psychologist and the CEO of Equilibria Leadership Consulting.

This article first appeared at forbes.com

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