Perspective Taking – An Essential Tool for Life

23 January 2014 by , No Comments

Perspective Taking – An Essential Tool for Life

The beauty of human beings is that we are all unique and different. How boring and monotonous life would be if we were all the same. One way that we humans differ, is that we have different perspectives, we see things in different ways and from different viewpoints. We all have different maps of reality. We learn these maps of reality from experiences and from our environments. As is written in the Talmud “We see the things not as they are, but as we are.”
Five Stages of Perspective Taking

Robert Selman, a well-known psychoanalyst developed a five stage model to describe the development of perspective-taking.

1. Undifferentiated perspective-taking

This stage starts between the ages of three to six, whereby children realize that others may have different perspectives, thoughts and feelings from theirs, however they often confuse the two. They often believe that everyone’s perspectives are the same as theirs.

2. Social-informational perspective-taking

This stage begins between the ages of five to nine. In this stage children realize that there are different perspectives for different people, however, they believe that their perspective is valid and the other perspectives are not valid.

3. Self-reflective perspective-taking

Children between the ages of seven to twelve years learn to walk in other people’s shoes. They develop the skill of empathy and they understand that others can be empathetic towards them as well.

4. Third-party perspective-taking

This stage begins between the ages of ten to fifteen, whereby the adolescent understands that not only is there two individual perspectives, there also can be a third party who is neutral, impartial to the task at hand. Teenagers also learn to look at a complete picture and keep multiple perspectives at the same time.

5. Societal perspective-taking

In this final stage of development, which commences from approximately fourteen on towards adulthood, individuals realize that the third-party is really not neutral, as they are also influenced by their values, and by societal values.

Knowledge of these developmental stages assists us in understanding that there is no right or wrong perspective – there are different perspectives. As children mature they take more information into account and gain new understandings, thus allowing them to understand that people perceive the world from different eyes and perspectives. Regardless of the developmental stages, it is important that we teach and model perspective-taking to our children.

Teaching children how to problem solve and brainstorm, generating a variety ideas and solutions to problems, are ways to help them understand different viewpoints. In a classroom situation, children are sometimes taught how to debate or how to write a paper from two opposing positions. This again, reinforces the importance of viewing different perspectives.
Key Benefits

There are numerous benefits to perspective-taking, one major one being that we increase our effectiveness in relating to others. Developing effective interpersonal relationships is one aspect of emotional intelligence, which is crucial for happiness and health. The ability to understand and empathize with others increases our rapport and trust with others, which often allows issues or conflicts to be effectively discussed or resolved. These skills are essential both in the home and in the workplace.

Another benefit of learning how to see different perspectives is that our creative thinking skills are enhanced. Children are naturally creative, however, due to numerous factors some individuals lose their ability to be creative. Creativity keeps our lives vibrant and full of vitality. Edward de Bono, a well-known creativity expert in England developed a tool called the Six Thinking Hats. The purpose is not only to assist individuals become more creative, it is also used to force them to take different points of view. Each hat represents a different perspective, for example, the red hat stands for intuition, feelings and emotions, the white hat represents facts and figures, the black hat is for judgment and caution, the green is for alternatives, yellow only looks at an idea’s advantages and the blue hat moderates the discussion. The problem or issue to be discussed is presented and everyone puts on a different color of hat. At this point you can only discuss the problem from that point of view. Throughout the exercise, individuals switch hats in order to see a variety of positions and solutions.

Developing our abilities to see different perspectives also allows us to focus on possible consequences of our choices and actions before taking action. The benefit from this is that we learn to make conscious and perhaps more appropriate decisions both for ourselves and for others. The more conscious we are about our choices, the more we can learn from our mistakes.

Given it is the start of a new year, perhaps you would like to focus on learning, modeling and/or teaching perspective-taking to your children, to yourself or with your co-workers. It only takes one person to start the ball rolling. Imagine a world where people were aware that we all have different maps of reality, different perspectives and are able to work with these differences. It would truly be a world of acceptance and synergy. It is never too late to create, improve or repair our realities.

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