Different Viewpoints

Difficult conversations are almost never about getting the facts right. They are about conflicting perceptions, interpretations and values.

Douglas Stone co-author of Difficult Conversations - How to discuss what matters most

We all see things differently. We have different perspectives, viewpoints and beliefs. The start of a difficult conversation is often a discussion of what happened. The ‘What Happened’ conversation is one of the four conversation identified by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen in their book ‘Difficult Conversations - How to discuss what matters most’. However, the authors highlight that it is not the facts that make a conversation difficult, it’s how the facts are perceived that cause disagreement.

The authors suggest approaching an issue from three perspectives, or as they call it; ‘three stories’. My story, how I see what has happened, your story, how you see what has happened and the third story, how a third party would see the situation which encompasses my story and your story.

Both my story and your story will include some facts, which we hopefully will agree on. Donald Trump was voted President of the USA, the UK voted to leave the EU, etc, etc.

But each story will no doubt contain statements that look like facts but are in reality opinions - how I see what has happened or how you see what has happened.

Concentrating on getting the facts right may not be productive in a difficult conversation because:

  • Difficult conversations are almost never about getting the facts right. It’s how those facts are perceived and interpreted that matters. How they related to our values. Do they support or contradict what we already think about a situation or person.
  • People have a tendency to filter information and embrace information that supports their views and reject information that contradicts them. The article Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds published in New Yorker Magazine cites research on this tendency, called confirmation bias. It also describes how receiving information that supports your views make people feel good because in this situation the ‘feel good’ chemical get released into the blood stream.

It is easy to assume that we all see the world in the same way, but we don’t.

The map is not the territory.

Alfred Korzybski, scientist and philosopher, 1931

What did he mean? He was pointing out that we do not see reality. The world is filtered by our senses and brain. The map is our perception of reality, but we communicate as if everyone has the same map.

Everything we have ever done, or experienced, has affected our filters. Our past has power over us. And it seems that the more of a type of experience we have the more it influences us. It strongly defines our reality.