If you want to inform, influence or lead others, you have to recognise that they don’t necessarily see the world the same way that you do. If you can bridge the gaps you can develop a richer understanding, make better more durable decisions and increase your effectiveness.
Ways of seeing
Everyone develops their own personal ‘constructs’ about of how the world works based on individual observations and experiences within the culture they grow up in. These constructs are different for every person and embody personal assumptions about motivation, values and choices. As long as there is no disparity between what you experience and your internal picture of the world, you may be scarcely aware of the constructs you live with.
Personal constructs are in effect working hypotheses of how the world works. They enable you to predict outcomes and anticipate events but they also affect how you see the world. If your beliefs are challenged it can be uncomfortable. But to reject the alternative viewpoint and stick to your own patterns of thought can be less than helpful if that limits your ability to think objectively. Other points of view contain new information.
Some recent research at the University of Chicago suggests that children that grow up in multilingual environments tend to be better communicators. Those hearing more than one language spoken at home are better at interpreting a speaker’s meaning than children exposed only to their mother tongue. And children do not have to be bilingual themselves – simply being exposed to another language makes a difference.
A lot of this has to do with the ability to identify different perspectives. The researchers suggest that extensive social practice in monitoring who speaks what to whom increases awareness of the social patterns related to language use.
Those who learn other languages later in life also become aware that there are different ways of expressing the same idea. Indeed, sometimes the other language has a more precise and satisfying way of expressing an idea succinctly – you find exactly the right phrase in mot juste or revel in the misfortune of others with Schadenfreude.
No one right way
But we can develop the ability to recognise different perspectives from the different ways that ideas are expressed in our own language. This prepares us for the idea that there is seldom one right way of thinking about or approaching an issue and that we are wise to appreciate other points of view in order to get a more rounded view.
This is a process of discovery that enables you to be more empathetic and that increases your range of options. The key is to explore other ways of looking at things but without rejecting your own perspective.