I was fascinated by the recent social media frenzy over ‘what colour is the dress?’. In case you missed it, the seemingly innocuous image of a dress caused hot debate around the world earlier this year, as people saw the same image in two completely different ways.
Some saw the dress as blue and black, while others looking at the very same image (often at the same time!) saw it as white and gold. This very debate happened in our house, as I saw blue and black while my partner and son saw it clearly as white and gold. We found ourselves amazed that the other party could look at the same thing and see it so differently, and as the debate ignited, amazement turned to disbelief and then frustration. Neither of us could see the alternative colour scheme to the first one we saw. So who was right and who was wrong?
The truth is, we simply had a different perspective on the same thing, and the perception we built from this was our reality. The risk however, was that we could become defensive about proving our perception to be the only reality (or certainly the only true one!).
In business and personal relationships, we often witness the same phenomenon. Obviously the perception debate is not about the colour of a dress, but often I will observe two or more parties having a significant difference in perception about the same event or circumstance. This quickly leads to defensive behaviour as each seeks to prove their perception is right and the other party’s is less valid or even incorrect. The result is defensive behaviour, conflict, poor team dynamics, and even the complete breakdown of some relationships.
So how do we validate everyone’s perception as reality, if those perceptions are different?
The answer is a very simple technique – ‘hill topping’.
Imagine each party is stood on different hill tops, looking at the same situation – for example a building at the bottom of the valley.
‐ The party on Hill 1 describes the building as attractive, well presented and welcoming as they are looking at the front facade.
‐ The party on Hill 2 describes the building as unimpressive, functional and unwelcoming because they are looking at the back wall.
‐ The party on Hill 3 starts laughing – as there is no building! They are looking at a gable wall covered over by ivy.
The reaction of the other two parties causes each to become entrenched and defensive about their viewpoint being correct. And that’s when they start throwing rocks at each other…
When we realise that we differ in perception, we need to first step away from our position and try to see it from the others viewpoint. To literally ‘walk up’ the other parties ‘hill top’ and see it from their perspective – by asking questions that help us understand the other viewpoint and listening with a rational mindset. When we ‘walk up’ the other hill top first, it grows our awareness of the situation and helps us to feel less defensive about our position. Others are then more willing to visit our hill top and explore the situation from our perspective.
Will we therefore agree, or decide who is right or wrong? Any of these are possible, as is to agree to disagree. What’s most important is that we see the full range of views, and ideally find some common ground:
It is a building, the front is prettier than the back, and the ivy on the end wall completely covers the brickwork.
And there’s a woman standing outside in a blue and black dress 😉