Perspective-taking and curiosity – a winning combination

Perspective-taking and curiosity - a winning combination

You may have been told as a child that ‘curiosity killed the cat’ and that you need to ‘put yourself in someone else’s shoes’. While having a dead cat and wearing someone else’s shoes are not immediately appealing, on closer reflection, you will find the benefits.

Ok so stick with me here, and apologies to any cat lovers out there.

Curiosity is about digging in and investigating what you don’t know or don’t understand. While perspective-taking, as researcher Mark Davis defined, is the ability to adopt the psychological point of view of others in everyday life.

The combination of both habits is powerful.

Let’s start with curiosity.

Firstly, it builds your leadership brand. Influential leaders are open to questioning and happy to admit what they don’t know. They recognise that providing space and support for colleagues and team members to share their ideas and to contribute leads to better organisational outcomes.

Secondly, it creates new neural pathways. Remember the delight you experienced as a child when you did something for the first time? Being an adult doesn’t stop this happening. Each time you discover something new and try it out for the first time, new pathways in the brain are activated.

Curiosity enables you to question with interest and compassion by expanding your frame of reference. When you are curious, you don’t focus on judging or fault-finding. Instead, you seek to understand what could be, which in turn generates insight and understanding, and advances healthy decision-making.

Lastly, being curious enables you to dig into your thought processes, reactions and actions. Understanding why you do what you do – what motivates, enables or disables effective action and response is critical.

Curiosity, by itself, is a powerful trait, but when you combine it with perspective taking, it proves a winning combination.

Perspective-taking is beneficial because when a person adopts this thinking mode, they can better anticipate the behaviours and reactions of those around them. Perspective-taking has been widely studied, particularly in the context of negotiating. It turns out that being able to understand the perspective of the other party is critical for success.

Columbia University’s Adam Galinsky (and colleagues) discovered that being able to get inside the head of your negotiating opponent provides an advantage in several ways. This approach increased the person’s ability to uncover opportunities for agreement and enabled them to create and claim additional gains at the negotiating table.

When you actively try to see the situation from another person’s perspective, you are using different cognitive skills to examine and process information. You are no longer relying on past ways of thinking; instead, you are challenging yourself to think differently.

As well, when you can see another person’s perspective, you are more open to understanding what is driving their responses and reactions. So rather than focusing on assuming and judging, you focus on listening and learning. That approach goes a long way to building healthy and constructive relationships.

Psychologist, Steven Pinker, once remarked: “Reading is a technology for perspective-taking. When someone else’s thoughts are in your head, you are observing the world from that person’s vantage point“.

When you can see the world from a different vantage point and are curious about what that means, you may find that a whole new world opens up for you.

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