Perspective-taking is the Key to Good Humans and Good Business

The ability to entertain the perspective of another has long been recognized as a critical ingredient in proper social functioning. Piaget marked the ability to shift perspectives as a major developmental breakthrough in cognitive functioning, and Kolhberg recognized its importance in his classification of moral reasoning. Batson noted that the presence of perspective-taking can inspire great gestures of altruism, and its absence can incite the devastations of social aggression. — Edited from Adam Galinsky

By: Mary Beth McEuen

The Maritz Institute Network has been studying perspective-taking over the past couple of months with the help of Emily Falk, a neuroscientist who works with the University of Michigan. Emily has introduced us to the work of Adam Galinsky with Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University who does research on perspective-taking, negotiation and other really cool stuff.

While the quote offers evidence that perspective-taking is an imperative to being a good human being. You might be saying, “Perspective-taking, so what? What does this have to do with better business practices?”

As I think about it, I am concluding that perspective-taking is the most important individual and organizational competencyto effectivelycompete and create value in today’s turmuluous business environment.

As a business leader, when you fully take the perspective of another person or group of people, your thoughts toward that group become more like how you see yourself. You move beyond seeing that person or group as an “out-group” that you need to extract from or defend against. Essentially, you bring that person or group into your “in-group” and establish bonds with them that allow you to see them as fully human and much like yourself, in many ways.

Here is the red-flag statement. If you catch yourself saying, “How can I get them to buy more, sell more, etc.” You are in trouble. You need to reframe and ask, “How can I create an offer or solution that is compelling to them?” “How can I create an environment where people can do their best work?”

Taking the perspective of every stakeholder touched by a business practice or program is the first step in creating value for them. Whether you are designing a customer satisfaction measurement system, creating a recognition system, or developing a channel engagement strategy, start by putting yourself into the shoes of every stakeholder touched by those systems and ask:

  • What is important to this stakeholder group? What is going on in their day-to-day life that could be made better? What do they value? What are their values or motivators?
  • How might value be created for them? How might we create an experience that is meaningful and motivating for them? How might we make their lives better?

Too often, business practices and programs are skewed to create value for the business without considering what is really good for the stakeholders. We have become very good at understanding what a company wants and needs to create a ROI. It is much rarer that we strive to understand what the various stakeholders want and need.

Adopting a better business – better lives approach starts with perspective-taking. Business can do well while also doing good things for everyone touched by the business.

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