‘See world through their eyes, not yours’

Seeing people as people seems simple, but it’s a revelation in the workplace.

Philosopher Wayne Dyer proposed, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

Kimberly White discovered that firsthand. In her book, “The Shift: How Seeing People as People Changes Everything,” she tells a story about how changing our perspective on the people around us can have dramatic consequences on employee engagement, the quality of relationships and how we see the world.

As she explained to Forbes analyst, brand strategist and TalentCulture chief executive officer Meghan M. Biro, White emerged with unexpected changes in perspective and mindset.

The core theme of “The Shift” is seeing people as people. Biro and White discussed how they see their coworkers and customers as more than objects.

“Everyone has different wants and needs,” Biro said. “Those factors take priority. You can’t work with or serve people best unless you see the world through their eyes, not yours.

“I work to personalize as many interactions as I can,” she said. “I’m a big fan of phone calls over emails and annual retreats to build relationships among our remote team.”

Ask and listen

Interactions begin with attentive listening.

“It’s important to pay attention to people,” Biro said. “Ask them questions about themselves and get to know employees, customers on a personal level, beyond their role.

“Meet people where they are in life and career,” she said.

White noted that knee-jerk reactions are poor ways to manage relationships.

“I always try to remember that irritating and difficult behaviors are only people’s reactions to their ‘hooks’ — to the difficulties and challenges that beset them,” she said.

“Nobody’s just there to bother you,” White said. “Everyone has reasons and a history.”

The first step is not to objectify others.

“For me, it is so easy to fall into seeing people as though they were objects — like they just exist for me,” White said. “I have to work at reminding myself that the frustrating things they do come from their own reality.

“Ask questions and get to know them,” she said. “There’s all the difference between ‘That girl in accounting who sends brusque emails’ and ‘Amy, who has crippling anxiety but still managed to put herself through college working retail.’ One is an object; the other is a person.”

Power from knowing

Those in charge need to overcome such mindsets.

“Leaders who get to know their people have a huge advantage,” White said. “They know what their strengths are and how to deploy them.

“Leaders need to spend the time to get to know their people individually and meaningfully,” she said. “It pays dividends.”

Self-reflection offers insights.

“We all need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, do I see the people around me as objects, getting irritated when they don’t do what I prefer?” White said. “Or do I know and appreciate their unique background, motivations, troubles and stories?”

Recognize and respect other people’s beliefs and feelings — especially if they differ from yours. Work with others rather than impose your “correct” view in relationships that need understanding rather than expertise.

“This is one of the keys to seeing people as people, too,” White said. “It’s understanding that they aren’t the same, and that their view comes from a full life of experience. We can learn from others who don’t think like us.

“I have to credit Arbinger Institute, which promotes mindset change,” she said, citing the organization’s key messages:

  • When I think only about myself, I am so limited in what I can understand and even imagine.
  • When I think about others — the pressures they face, the responsibilities they carry — my outlook is larger.

“Don’t laugh,” White said. “When I’m irritated with someone, I like to make up a story in which that person is overcoming tremendous hardship, and their behavior — clinginess, lateness, rudeness — is understandable and excusable. For all I know, the story is true.

“Nobody will bother to understand my point if I haven’t shown that I am willing to invest the time in understanding theirs,” she said.

Misplaced criticism

Insights such as that can head off conflicts before they start.

“So many work conflicts are based on misunderstanding — not anyone doing anything wrong,” White said. “Never criticize someone before you’ve first spent the time to get to know them. Invariably, they turn out to have a good reason for whatever it was I was going to criticize.”

Biro said a broad view also keeps perspectives positive.

“It’s important to keep work in perspective and look beyond the job at the bigger picture,” she said. “Ultimately, you are more than your work.”

Here are Biro’s other recommendations:

  • Only make time for conversations involving “work” in certain times during the week.
  • Take time to enjoy the process and transformation rather than overthink it.
  • Let go of relationships that don’t serve your true purpose and are not give and take.

Biro and White agreed that people can work better together by understanding each other’s work and what each person brings to the job.

“Communicate — and over-communicate if necessary,” Biro said. “Clarify anytime you are not sure or where you’re faced with conflicting demands.

“Learn to relax no matter how challenging the work gets or how demanding it becomes,” she said.

Upper influence

As is often the case, the spirit and soul of an organization flows from the top.

“The responsibility starts with leaders,” White said. “Leaders who see people as people invite happiness, commitment and engagement from others.”

She turned to advice from social psychologist Jonathan Haidt.

“He has shown that when a person feels elevating emotions — like from witnessing someone do something altruistic — they tend to respond by demonstrating positive behaviors themselves,” White said.

“That suggests that when one person shows honor and compassion, it will inspire others to behave similarly,” she said. “One person of humility and compassion can start a cascade that improves work life for everyone.”

White advocates putting yourself in other’s shoes.

“We need to understand their point of view,” she said. “They almost always think that what they’re doing is right. I ask myself, ‘How am I a problem for others?’ before I focus on how others are a problem for me.

“Each of us — by being the one who is compassionate and understanding — can initiate those steps,” White said.

About The Author

Jim Katzaman is a manager at Largo Financial Services and worked in public affairs for the Air Force and federal government. You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.