How do you communicate with people who have a different view of the world?
In some ways, we all have a different view of the world; our view of the world is influenced by our personality, upbringing, life experiences, personal philosophies and beliefs about the world. It is a wonder that we can communicate with each other at all!!
However, there are some people where you just seem to click with them, there may be some differences but there are more things in common in terms of how they ‘see the world’, their values, beliefs. We can often surround ourselves with friends who are similar to ourselves as that makes life easier. However, it is often at work and in our families when we have to rub along with people who might be very different from us and where it starts to be very challenging.
‘If it is peace you want, seek to change yourself, not other people. It is easier to protect yourself with slippers than to carpet the whole earth.’
Anthony De Mello
When we are dealing with others who are different from us, it is easy to point the finger at them and think that they are the one who is different, they are the one who needs to change or they are the one causing the problems. Start by looking at yourself, first of all, as a reminder that there are two sides of any interaction and that they might be finding you just as challenging as you are finding them. Think about:
- Your personality type, what are the strengths and potential weaknesses of your own personality? If you have never completed a personality questionnaire then I offer one-off personality assessments, which include a feedback and coaching session using the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) for both individuals and teams, email email@example.com for more details.
- Your beliefs about yourself, others and the world as a whole. You might not be realising it but it is your beliefs that are driving your behaviour or holding you back in certain situations. Being aware of them is the first step to taking charge of your thought processes and any negative impact they have on your lives. Again, this is something that I cover during my coaching programmes.
- Your behaviour, are there things that you do which annoy others? Perhaps you have received feedback in the past but have slipped back into old ways, or perhaps people have been too afraid to give you feedback.
What aspects of your personality or behaviour might others find challenging?
On an in-house managing challenging interactions workshop that I was running, a participant said that when she comes across someone who is challenging and different from her, she gets curious about them. I think this is a great way of looking at challenging interactions. Rather than getting annoyed, frustrated or writing them off in your mind because they are not like you, get curious. Getting curious might involve some or all of the following:
- Ask questions, find out more about them and get to know them better. With people who are different from ourselves we can often back off from getting to know them.
- Ask questions and find out more about how they think, why they have said what they said or reacted in a certain way.
- Take action to build rapport with them – this will be covered in more detail on my free Managing Challenging Interactions taster workshop on 26 September, email firstname.lastname@example.org to book your place.
- Step into their shoes – imagine what it is like to be them, with their personality, their job, their family situation, their commute to work.
Who would you benefit from by stepping into their shoes?
‘Sharing a conversation that makes a deep impression, even if just for a short time, is a powerful means for bringing people's hearts together.’
I was reading Tim Lott’s very honest column in the Family Section of the Saturday Guardian and he talked about acceptance of people’s weaknesses and foibles, rather than just putting up with them! When you accept people as they are, it adds a certain amount of compassion and serenity to the process, whereas tolerating them seems to harbour frustration, lack of understanding and barely suppressed emotions.
‘Anger and intolerance are the twin enemies of correct understanding.’
I was once working as a coach and trainer with a senior management team in a national organisation, who were mainly ‘Sensing’ types in MBTI who focussed on the here and now, the current facts and figures (click here for more on MBTI in my June 2009 Inspire), which is surprising for a SMT, but not for this organisation considering what the organisation did. The problem was that there was no one who could ‘see’ past the current situation and imagine a different future, they just got bogged down with the current reality. The challenge for teams is that you need different personality types to benefit from the different ways of doing things, different ideas, different perspectives, but those differences often cause frictions if not handled well.
What are the benefits of the different personalities within your team?
When we come across people who are very different from us, we can react in a number of different ways:
- We can feel threatened, go into ‘threat’ response and react in either a passive or aggressive manner.
- We can dismiss them and their views, believing we are more superior to them or their views are just daft or irrational.
- We try to avoid them, as dealing with them is just too difficult, as they don’t react to situations or respond in ways that we understand.
On the other hand, we can learn to manage our initial emotional response to them, be calm and rational, get curious, ask questions, in order to get the benefit of their different view and approach to work and to life.
This will be covered in more detail on my free Managing Challenging Interactions taster workshop on 26 September, email email@example.com to book your place.
I am sure that biologically when we are looking for a partner to have children with, attracting someone who is different from you probably results in a better gene mix for your children, as well as the fact that being different personality types probably helps with bringing up children. Can you imagine if you were both uptight schedule freaks or both laid back, let it all hang out personalities? It is just that those differences make living with each other challenging at times. However, if you apply all of the points above to family life, with partners, your parents or siblings it might help you to co-exist a little more easily.
Meanwhile, we often surround ourselves with friends who are similar to ourselves. However, having friends who are different can lead to interesting and thought provoking conversations. A friend of mine of 25 years is a practising Catholic, and I am a practising Buddhist of 22 years. Whilst we do have many values and interests in common, including practising a religion (which few of my other friends do), the differences in our beliefs lead to some fascinating conversations, which I value hugely and would miss if she were not my friend.
‘If you think you are so enlightened, go spend a week with your parents.’