Even though you probably know this intellectually, it may elude you in the heat of your day to day interactions. That can lead to all sorts of miscommunication and conflict. In this post, we’ll look at the huge ramifications of a powerful insight and how we can work with it to work better with each other.
We live in our own little worlds, filtering everything that happens and everything that others say and do through the lens of our own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs at the moment. I call this The Law of Perception: “What you experience is the result of where you are coming from at any given time.”
Now, this filtering activity is very important. Without perceptual filters, we would be bombarded with an overwhelming amount of input from everything and everyone around us, as well as from our own inner worlds. Who doesn’t feel on the edge of information overload these days? To be able to focus your attention and take in just what you need to right now is a powerful skill.
Yet most of this filtering happens subconsciously, so we don’t notice it. We think that we just “see things the way they are.” This leads to conflict when someone else sees things differently—which is more the rule than the exception. Even in my relationship with my wife, whom I’ve known for 20 years, I have to watch out for this tendency to interpret what she’s saying through the filter of what I’m thinking and feeling.
How often do you find yourself reacting to what you think someone else is thinking, saying, or doing, only to find out later that they had something completely different in mind? How often does a conflict get resolved when you find yourself saying, “Sorry, I thought you meant ‘this,’ but I now see that you really meant ‘that.’ Now I get it.” Because we are all filtering the world through the limited lens of our personal history, needs, and interests, it’s natural that this will happen all the time.
So, what can we do about it?
The first thing is to be consistently aware of the fact that what you are experiencing is the result of where you are coming from. When you are aware of your current perspective and understand that it is just one way of looking at things amongst many possibilities, you free yourself from getting locked into a limited point of view. You open up to the notion that, no matter what you see happening, there are a variety of ways to look at it. You realize that the world is much bigger than how it appears to you at any given time.
This leads to a second internal action: let go of your preconceptions and open your mind to take in another’s perspective.
Once you know that your viewpoint is just a viewpoint—and not the only one—you are more open to other points of view. This not only widens your perspective, but it creates an environment for understanding and working with others. How many conflicts would be avoided or resolved if you were able to clearly state where you are coming from and be open to truly hearing and respecting where the other person is coming from?
I’ve found that is an ongoing practice which I need to keep at the forefront of my mind every day.