Perspective Of The Other Side

(Originally posted in 2016)

While working with leaders, I come across a similar issue many times: they want someone else to change their behaviour. For example:
How to deal with people that criticise my ideas?
How to force boss not to micromanage the team work?

We’d like someone else to change because we believe we are right. We have good intentions and aim to improve work, while the other side seems to disrupt us. We may believe that Agile, microservices, product focus (not project), or whatever else is the only solution, and anyone who disagrees should be dismissed. If someone criticises my ideas, they must be wrong. If my boss tries to micromanage, he is ignorant, as every book on management describes this as an anti-pattern.

But let’s be honest – all ideas like:

  • (the power of) teamwork
  • limit work in progress
  • autonomy (instead of micromanagement)
  • timeboxing
  • agile/kanban/lean
  • TDD/BDD/ATDD/Spec by example
  • (…place your lovely idea here…)

are just that—ideas. They are backed by a set of beliefs, but these beliefs are mostly subjective. Whether you accept them or not, you can’t prove they are definitively right. These are merely models, theories, hypotheses, patterns, heuristics, and strategies. Applied in complex environments, they may be beneficial in some contexts and ineffective in others. Evaluating their real value can be challenging. So whenever you meet someone who disagrees, be aware that they might be right. This awareness is the first necessary step to address the issue. What you believe is secondary; how you react when someone disagrees is far more important.

The main obstacle in tackling the challenge is our tendency to view the situation solely from one perspective—the “I” perspective. This viewpoint is subjective because it’s based on our current beliefs, expectations, states, knowledge, and biases. That’s why it’s so challenging to resolve conflicts between people. To find a win-win solution, we need to try to see the situation from the other side’s (“you”) perspective.

If someone criticizes your idea, try to understand “why?” But be cautious, as we often attribute negative intentions to others’ behaviors. “He criticizes me because he wants to diminish me.” While this may be true in some rare cases, it’s usually not the root intention. More often than not, the root intention is positive—at least from the other person’s perspective. They may be criticizing your idea to ensure that the best possible solution is implemented, or to warn about potential problems that may arise.

In the second example, if your boss wants to micromanage, ask, “Why is this important?” They may want to ensure that work is done correctly or in a standardised manner. Knowing their intention makes it easier to find an alternative way for the boss to achieve their goal without resorting to micromanagement. If you simply declare, “Micromanagement is evil,” you risk taking something important away from them without offering a replacement.

So the next time you dislike someone’s behaviour or attitude, try to view the situation from their perspective. Ask, “Why is this important to them? What is their positive intention?” Doing so will make it much easier to tackle the situation. And remember, most of what you consider the “right” way of doing things is based on your own subjective beliefs, so don’t become too attached to them.

(Of course, this subject isn’t limited to technical leaders but can be applied to the human race as a whole.)