In a discussion where the parties have strongly held views, can everybody be right? Of course not, many of you will quickly respond. There is only one right view on the matter at hand some will say, and if you do not agree with it, then you are wrong. But what if the real problem in many debates, discussions or arguments is that we insist on thinking in terms of the concepts “right” and “wrong”? What happens if we shift our focus to the notion of “PERSPECTIVES” and allow for the fact that there are many ways of looking at almost anything and that each potentially has its value? What happens for me is that when I shift my focus, I end up learning a great deal more before I must decide or act upon almost anything.
I have had some interesting discussions in my management workshops when I have counseled participants that in most management decisions, there is no such thing as “one right answer”; only a range of options. Moreover, in many instances, your final choice of option amounts to an “act of faith”, with the results uncertain until you see how things work out. Still some folks hold strongly to the view that there is always a right and a wrong way to look at things.
Anthropologists and psychologists have always appreciated the power of culture and individual life experience in shaping the way we look at the world around us. Our socialization — especially the unconscious imprints deeply etched on the inner-most stratum of our consciousness from early in our lives — become the reality we may always see for good or ill and for some, this de facto, is the right way.
But freeing oneself from the right-wrong paradigm offers us the powerful opportunity to explore the reasons behind someone else’s point of view, without having to abandon the validity of one’s own perspective in return. It makes possible deeper insight into a complex issue and an awareness of additional avenues for addressing those elements requiring our attention. Because exploring a range of perspectives is essentially a non-defensive approach to thinking, it elicits fewer of the negative “if you win I lose” emotions that often complicate logic, sound reasoning, and reaching an accommodation when required.
Most managers constantly deal with a range of complex problems and issues that require input from a range of colleagues, subordinates, and superiors. They make decisions based on that input that will impact others; groups sometimes small in number and considerably larger from time to time. The best managers are always cognizant of the value of making the best informed decisions they can make.
Discussions that involve rigid, inflexible positions to determine the right and wrong of anything rarely result in well-informed participants or decisions. In the end, participants are most likely to end up more strongly committed to the positions they held at the start. Shift the paradigm to an exploration and appreciation of multiple perspectives, however, and you increase the probability that participants will experience some evolution in the views they held at the start and exhibit a willingness to consider a wider range of decision options.
The best managers not only cultivate a multi-perspective, open-mindedness of their own, they strive to nurture it in those around them and role model it whenever possible. Moreover, by encouraging and helping others to discover and consider the value in a broad range of views, they also gain two invaluable assets for solving problems and moving their organizations forward.
First, an appreciation of the different ways an issue can legitimately be parsed, provides critical ingredients for finding “common ground” where a maximum number of individuals can coalesce. Second, a sense of being heard and having one’s views respected is often sufficient to motivate a majority to support a course of action aimed at the overall good, even when many do so with continuing doubts and reservations.
Perhaps in a clash of views, not everyone can possibly be right. But gaining support for doing the right thing — rather than pursuing who is right — is what the best managers know really matters.