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QUICK TIP: Use Perspective-taking to Strengthen Inclusion and Cultural Intelligence

Do you regularly remember to see the world from different perspectives than your own?

If the answer is yes, then keep it up!

If the answer is no, then it’s probably time you got started.

At least if you work with diversity and inclusion and/or are engaged in tasks that require collaboration across cultures and national borders.

In short, perspective-taking is about being able to put yourself in another person’s shoes and imagining what the world looks like from their point of view.

When talking about diversity and inclusion, perspective-taking is one of the few methods in D&I training which research has proven to have a positive effect.

Various research projects have shown that the exercise of putting oneself in another person’s shoes can:

  • Reduce unconscious bias and stereotypes
  • Create more positive attitudes towards people who our brains would automatically categorize as ’one of the others’ as opposed to ’one of us’ (because, for example, they look different, have a different cultural background, or belong to a different generation)
  • Can strengthen our willingness to interact with people who do not belong to ’our own group’

The ability to change perspective is also an important element in cultural intelligence because changing perspective can strengthen your cross-cultural work in many ways!

Here are some examples:

  • You become aware that your own perspective on the world is not ‘the only right way’, but is just one of many possible perspectives
  • You find it easier to clear up and avoid culture-related misunderstandings when you can see things from your global partner’s perspective
  • You make better decisions when bringing more perspectives into play
  • You can use different perspectives from your global employees to create new solutions – and adapt existing solutions to new markets

If you want to know more about how perspective-taking can strengthen inclusion and cultural intelligence, you’ll find links to relevant books, articles and research projects at the bottom of this blog post.

Test yourself: Do you already use perspective-taking as part of your work day?

Here are three quick questions you can use to assess whether perspective-taking is already a natural part of your work day.

1. Can you argue for an opposing viewpoint?

Think of a topic that you have an opinion about. Better still, a cause that you feel strongly about.

Then think of someone who has a completely different view on the matter and see if you can make an argument for that point of view.

2. Can you describe a task from a colleague’s perspective?

Think of a task that you and a number of colleagues need to solve together.

Then think of one of your colleagues who is also involved in the task. Try choosing someone who is not like you in every way – for example, a colleague from another department, a different professional or cultural background or another generation.

Try to put yourself in that colleague’s shoes. What does the task look like from his or her perspective?

3. Can you describe a ‘strange experience’ from your counterpart's perspective?

Think of a situation where you thought a colleague was behaving strangely or incorrectly.

Now rewind and ‘jump over to the other side’.

How did your colleague experience the situation in question? What motivated your colleague to act the way he/she did? And how does it affect your own interpretation of the situation when you now look at it from your colleague's perspective?

Train your ability to change perspective

We strongly recommend that you train your ability to change perspective. Even if using perspective-taking is already a part of your everyday life.

Keep the three questions from above in mind, so that you continuously train your brain to see tasks and situations from different perspectives.

This kind of brain exercise may seem demanding at first, but it gets easier along the way!

A really good model to use when working on changing perspective is 'The Double Iceberg'.

'The Double Iceberg' model helps you to explore the underlying values and motives behind a situation that you and a colleague are interpreting differently.

Learn how to use the model in our video blog post here (NB: the blog post focuses on national cultural differences, but you can also use 'The Double Iceberg' in other situations where you and your colleagues and partners experience a situation differently).

Look for patterns – and test your assumptions

So now you’re trying to put yourself in a colleague’s shoes and that colleague is from a different country to you. Or is a different gender, from a different generation, has a different professional background, etc.

How do you really know what the world looks like from your colleague’s perspective?

The answer is: You can never completely know. But you can do your best to find out!

Let’s say that you have a Danish background, and you have a group of new colleagues in India.

Start by exploring what cultural values can influence the perspectives of your Indian colleagues. Although there will always be individual differences, try to find more general cultural patterns as well.

You may already have some assumptions about Indian culture. And that's okay. Just remember to constantly assess whether your assumptions reflect reality and be ready to adjust them if they don’t!

Here are a few tools you can use to explore cultural values and patterns:

Where to go from here

Can we help you or your company to use perspective-taking to strengthen inclusion and cultural intelligence? Contact us for a chat!

C3's book ’Global Perspectives’ is full of inspiration on how you can use different perspectives to strengthen your cross-cultural communication and collaboration. Read more about the book here.

Want more tips on how to best collaborate across cultures? Follow us here on LinkedIn – and sign up for our newsletter here.

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