The Power of Perspective


One of my favourite Irish sayings is “Every front door looks beautiful!” You never really know what is truly going on in someone’s life until you get to the kitchen table and develop a relationship. The skill to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is called “perspective taking”.

Recently during a family meeting as we passed around the talking stick (my beanie baby bull) a family member said, “You really don’t understand what it is like to be me do you?”

The talking stick is a tool I use to help folks share their perspectives without interruption. You may laugh and think it is silly, but I have a dairy farmer who grabs an empty plastic water bottle out in the barn when he calls a decision-making meeting on the fly.

When you can respond to conflict by trying to put yourself in the other person’s position and understand the other person’s point of view you will have many insights:

  • You may become aware of new information

  • You might have new ways to interpret information that you would never have perceived otherwise.

  • You will increase your knowledge base

  • You will make the other person feel you are taking their concerns seriously which results in the other person feeling understood. (Daughter in-laws would love this!)

  • You will often be seen as agreeable, open-minded and an effective farm team member.

How do you get better at making the other folks on your farm feel understood?

  1. Identify the weaknesses in your own position or approach. Prepare folks for meetings without interruption. Don’t try to have important conversations when you are intensely trying to get farm work done. Block time for a meeting in a quiet space. Approach the conversation with “I have some things I would like to get your input on. When can we sit down and figure this out? What time would work for you. I’ll need an hour.”

  2. Imagine how and why the other person came to hold their position. Farm dads are aging in place and may have some unspoken fears. They also carry stories about how things should be in their heads, and you may have to ask some powerful questions to pull their thoughts out into a conversation you can unravel. Are they afraid of failure? Do they have a scarcity mindset? Do they have very low emotional intelligence and are not aware of their poor listening skills?

  3. Imagine what the other person is trying to accomplish. Many farm dads and moms just want family harmony. Unfortunately, they have not taken responsibility for showing favoritism to one farming child while shutting other farm partners out. If the family is just trying to show the community how wonderful they are without doing the work of resolving inner family conflict, the pretense will not hold. Ask, “What is it you truly want? What are you trying to accomplish?” From my perspective, you are making assumptions about what I want because you have not listened to my want and needs, and you have not asked me what I want! “The ebb of flow of conversation needs to go both ways. It also helps to re-frame or re-cap what you thought who heard the other person saying and get them to confirm you caught it correctly.

  4. Imagine what the other person thinks you are trying to accomplish. “What do you really think about what I want? Are you perceiving me as selfish and entitled? Are you aware your inability to step back and give up the reins of control for this farm are keeping us stuck, and in turmoil? I just want to have some degree of control to make management decisions and ultimately to have a plan for our future equity as partners in this farm business. I want to accomplish a better way of communication in a more formalized setting with regular meetings. I don’t want the uncertainty of our future to continue. I want to celebrate being a family without your demands around how we all should be behaving. We are all adults here. We need to be accountable for our bad behaviour and choose to be curious about what other farm team members are wanting and needing.”Give the other person your full and undivided attention when they are speaking. Do not turn your back or sit sideways. Observe the eyes and face, as the eyes are the “window to the soul”.

The mouth, eyebrows and forehead give you clues about emotional states.

Instead of offering your opinion quickly, dig deeper, asking questions that invite the other person to explain the reasons behind his or her position. Be curious. “I am just curious what you meant when you said…. tell me more!

If you don’t understand, admit it, and ask for further explanation.

Acknowledge the other’s position without agreeing with it by saying “That’s an interesting point of view” or “Many people have that same position.”

Never interrupt. Use the talking stick to hold the floor and pass it on with you are finished sharing your perspective.

As a Hudson Institute trained coach, I use the age and tasks map to help families understand the various perspectives of different decades.

  • In your 20’s you need to become independent and experience the management styles of other farms.

  • In your 30’s you need to master success and navigate your exhaustion raising your family.

  • In your 40’s you need to own equity to have power and control over your destiny on the farm.

  • In your 50s you need to simplify your life to pay attention to the quality of your life.

  • In your 60’s you start over again as the “helping labour” and work on new roles, shifting management to the next generation. Pay attention to health issues.

  • In your 70’s you focus on mentorship and stepping back without stepping away.

  • In your 80’s you have done wealth transfer and earn respect as a wise elder.

  • In your 90’s you appreciate your legacy and enjoy seeing your impact and influence because you let go decades ago.

Work on walking through the front door of your conflict and seek to understand the other person’s perspective. Sign-up for our in-law event here.

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