Recently, I was working with a group of executives who have been experiencing issues due to toxic conflict in the workplace. Each agreed the issues are a result of the stress and major changes over the last two years and were searching to find ways to defuse ongoing challenges. During the discussion, as the conversation moved to the topic of opinion, we dug into the idea of reality versus perspective. The conversation quickly became animated.
The reality is that other than the absolute proven facts such as water is wet, pretty much everything you think, and feel are the result of your perspective.
The average person believes that their personal perspective is reality. In an emotionally fueled moment, it is a rare person who thinks, “Wait a minute. This is only my perspective. I need more information before I respond.” A simple illustration of this point follows.
Imagine you are driving to work. Several hundred feet ahead of you, a car pulls out from a side street. As you get closer, you quickly realize it is moving quite a bit under the speed limit. You glance at the time and realize that, unless you can get around the vehicle, you will be late for an important meeting.
As your annoyance rises, you call the driver of the caran “idiot.”
When you glance in your rearview mirror, a car is coming up behind you so fast that you estimate the driver is going at least twenty miles over the speed limit. Before you can even think, the car is so close that you can’t see the bumper. Your hands tighten on the wheel as you mutter, “What a maniac.”
Now consider the perspective of the other two drivers. The driver of the car in front of you may believe you are a “maniac” because he feels you are too close. The guy behind you is calling you an “idiot” since he perceives you as driving slowly.
In this example, three people experience the situation from three completely different perspectives. Each one believes that their experience is the reality.
What is reality? According to Webster’s Dictionary, reality is the quality or state of being real or a fact.
Perspective is defined as a mental view, or in other words, your personal viewpoint. In other words, the place where you form your opinion.
Merriam Webster defines opinion as a belief or conclusion held with confidence but not substantiated by positive knowledge or proof. That is worth reading a second time, since it is a rare person who is not guilty of believing their opinions are absolute fact.
No wonder there is so much toxicity in the world today. You and everyone you know has an opinion that is not necessarily substantiated by knowledge or proof.
The Road to Discernment
How do you differentiate reality from perspective?
The fact is that we all come from diverse backgrounds with a myriad of unique experiences. You may be an only child while your friend grew up with many siblings. Someone else may have spent their childhood traveling the world, while another grew up in poverty in the inner city. So many experiences. So many differing views.
Conflict arises when emotions get involved and are released in an antagonistic fashion. Think about a simple comment you or someone you know posted on social media. Suddenly there is a battle brewing and people are spewing venom at each other.
Conflict generally starts with a difference of opinion. Think for a moment about a family member, friend, or colleague that you particularly admire. Does that person tend to live in alignment with your beliefs and opinions? Or do they hold an opposite view?
Now think about someone you used to enjoy but wholately gets under your skin like a bad case of poison ivy. Is that person living in alignment with your beliefs and opinions, or have they developed a differing view?
Over the last few years, people have begun lashing out at each other in every available public forum. The workplace has struggled under the effects of personal conflict to the point that executives are reaching out to professionals for solutions.
This is in large part because individuals believe their perspectives are reality.
What Can You Do?
There are many ways to avoid conflicts and the divisions they can cause. I have listed a few below.
- When you feel like lashing out, stop and take a breath. Count to ten. Ask yourself how important it is to respond. Take another breath as you put down your device and walk away.
- Ask yourself if your angry feelings are a result of needing to release stress. If the answer is yes, find a way to do so that does not involve engaging another in an antagonistic way. There are as many ways to release stress as there are sports, rage rooms, obstacle courses, swimming pools, etc.
- Ask questions. Rather than jumping to an emotional response, try to gain some clarity. Clarity offers insight, and you may even learn something.
- A walk in nature without your devices can make a huge difference. We live in a beautiful world. Give yourself the gift of a breath of fresh air.
- Develop the habit of meditation. Even five minutes a day can help you center, breathe, and begin to build the self-awareness necessary to complete steps 1 – 4.