It is always interesting to me when two people are at the same meeting and yet come away with an entirely different perspective on what transpired. When the other party is someone you trust/respect, the natural reaction is to ask questions about their views and explain why you see things as you do — which ultimately can lead to greater understanding. If the person with the differing view is someone you don’t know/are frustrated with, our natural reaction is often to reinforce our own thinking and question the motives/understanding of the other party.
How much easier could it be to address conflicts if we would, in effect, switch out our glasses to see things from a different perspective? In their book Reframing Organizations, Bolman and Deal identify four different frames, or perspectives, through which to view leadership challenges. While most of us naturally skew toward one frame it can be enlightening, especially in challenging times, to view the situation through multiple lenses.
The structural frame, let’s call these the horn-rimmed glasses, focuses on structure and tasks. Are you trying to “fix” individuals when the real issue is systemic? Is the structure too loose, lacking clarity, or too tight with rigid rules? Or maybe you need to switch to your human resource frame — you know, fun blue plastic glasses that let you focus on the relationship between your people and the organization, and how best to meet your staff members goals while also moving the organization forward.
In especially sticky conflicts, perhaps you should pull on your trendy frameless specs to view the situation through the political frame. As much as some leaders may want to avoid this lens, when you are dealing with divergent interests, scarce resources, and power, this frame may provide the clarity to find a way forward.
In a different situation, your wire-framed symbolic lens may be most helpful. Considering how to blend the intellectual with the emotional — the head and the heart, traditions and meaning — just might be the most effective in coalescing your people around a common goal.
There is no one right pair of glasses for every situation, so if you’re stuck, or frustrated with a particularly stubborn challenge, try on each frame and consider the issue from that perspective. You just might gain new insights that could point toward a path that was obscured when viewed from a different vantage point.
Yes, I know, you have a favorite set of glasses. They are comfortable and serve you well in most situations. But leadership isn’t always about being comfortable. Sometimes it’s about considering different perspectives for the good of the organization. Next time you are stuck with a challenging dilemma, try switching your glasses. You just might be surprised at what you can see through those horn-rimmed beauties.