When a conflict arises, whether it's with a co-worker, family or friend, understanding the other person's perspective is a key skill.
Virtually every human being has a need to feel understood. It feels good when someone just "gets" us. So when we meet a person who has the ability to be empathetic and understanding, we immediately view them as a likable person.
And who doesn't want to be more likable?
The good news is that being likable is fairly simply if you practice the skill of "perspective-taking."
The American philosopher George Herbert Mead called perspective-taking as having "the capacity to take the role of the other and to adopt alternative perspectives vis-à-vis oneself." And the legendary psychologist Carl Rogers defined it as the ability to "perceive the internal frame of reference of another with accuracy, and with the emotional components and meanings which pertain thereto, as if one were the person, but without ever losing the 'as if' condition."
Generally, you can use the perspective-taking approach to being likable when conversing with another person. When talking to a colleague, for example, the goal is to show them that you understand them because you've put yourself in their shoes.
It's important to note what perspective-taking is, and what it isn't.
Here's what it isn't:
- Nodding vigorously
- Mindlessly grunting, "Uh-huh," "sure," "I see" and so on
- Placating by saying, "I know what you mean" (when you really don't)
What it is, instead, is as simple as saying one sentence: "I can really put myself in your shoes."
One of the most important studies on perspective-taking comes from a team of researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 2014, a group of subjects were asked to write an essay describing a time their were treated unfairly by a boss. The subjects were under the impression that another person, not the researchers, would be reading their essays.
The first group was told the reader said, "I tried to take their perspectives, but I just couldn't put myself in their shoes." The second group was told the reader said, "I tried to take their perspectives, and I could really put myself in their shoes." As a result, the second group said they liked their reader 19 percent more, and felt 78 percent more empathy toward the reader.
The researchers concluded that when we say, "I can really put myself in your shoes," the other person sees that we can see the situation from their perspective, and in turn, they will open themselves up more. Most people live their lives — either consciously or unconsciously — with a "norm of reciprocity." That means, when someone does something for us, we feel a psychological obligation to return the kindness.
You're probably thinking, this all sounds absurdly simple. But the sad reality is that a lot of people don't practice the skill of perspective-taking.
Here at LeadershipIQ, we've analyzed more than 11,000 answers to an online test called "Do You Know How to Listen With Empathy?" A third of respondents failed miserably, revealing their poor their perspective-taking skills. Only 20 percent achieved perfect scores.
Luckily, you have the opportunity to be one of the most likable people in your office. If you can emphatically see the world through the eyes of your co-workers and make them feel that you truly understand them, those same people will scale mountains on your behalf, offering you all kinds of opportunity.
Mark Murphy is a New York Times best-selling author and founder of Leadership IQ. He has been ranked as a Top 30 Leadership Guru. His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Fortune, Forbes and Bloomberg. He has also been featured on CNN, NPR and CBS News Sunday Morning. Follow him on Twitter @LeadershipIQ.
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