In Turn Enemies Into Allies, I share multiple stories about seeing events through another’s eyes. I sometimes find that easy to do, and other times not easy at all. I think wearing masks in this Covid environment when we’re in close proximity to one another is a good idea, for example, and I’m not trying too hard to see the other side of that argument. And… I know there is one.
Which is probably why in my book I give so much weight to the power of inquiry, curiosity, and nonjudgment — key skills and mental models that give us half a chance to communicate civilly and learn what the world looks like outside our heads.
In addition to inquiry, there are other communication skills that help us learn where our conflict partner is coming from while also advocating for what’s important to us.
Advocacy is standing up for something — a point of view, value, or belief.
When we advocate, we’re assertive. We’re saying, “Here’s what I see. It may not be how you see it, so I’m going to put the view out there in such a way that you can see it through my eyes.”
If I advocate for wearing a mask in a grocery store, for example, I’m standing up for respecting people who are at risk of getting sick if I don’t wear one. Advocacy doesn’t preclude conversation, advocacy shares a point of view.
Ideally, I advocate without offending, because it increases my chances of being heard. Certain strategies help:
When advocating a position, it’s common to not really listen to what the other person is saying but instead jump in with our perspective too soon. “Yeah, but …” is ingrained in our verbal repertoire and often pops out automatically. If the speaker you’re “yeah butting” isn’t finished presenting their point of view, they won’t hear you. I sometimes play a game with myself to see how long I can wait and how much I can discover about the other person before I begin advocating for my message. It’s often brings to the surface interesting information and useful insights.
Continue to Clarify Purpose
What are we really trying to accomplish? Do I want to win the argument, make my conflict partner feel bad for having that view, or do I want to solve the problem, build the relationship, or offer alternatives?
It’s tempting to assume my partner knows what I’m thinking, or that they should know. I mean doesn’t everyone think the way I do? We’re in the middle of a pandemic. It seems only wise to take precautions. Doesn’t it? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe other values feel more urgent.
It helps me to think that in any heated conversation, the parties are trying to educate each other on what things look like from their window on the world. If I think of my partner as my teacher, it changes me. I become more receptive, even if I don’t agree with them. And I become their teacher. I’m not trying to sell them on anything, just let them see what it looks like on my planet.
Looking Through Their Window
Author Sheila Heen tells the story of a car trip with her 2-year-old son. He’s in his car seat in the back. When Sheila stops at a traffic light and asks how the traffic light works, her son says, “We go on red and we stop on green, Mommy.” He’s quite adamant about his view, despite Sheila’s explanation about how the red light/green light system actually works. She’s stumped until they arrive at their destination (also at a lighted intersection). She exits the car and goes to the back door to extract her son. Upon leaning in to lift him out of his car seat, she happens to notice that the only view he has is from the side window. He can’t see the traffic light in front of the car; he can only see the traffic light on the side street. In his view of the world, we do indeed go on red and stop on green.
I’m still practicing, too, and I like to think that the next time I feel sure I’m right about something (even if I am, in fact, right), instead of trying to sell my partner on my view, maybe I’ll jump into the back seat and look through their window.
We don’t see what they see. They don’t see what we see. How can we help each other see through our window? How can we possibly solve a problem without seeing through theirs?