In 2008, a couple researchers at a business school in France were seeking out the best way to motivate someone to change their position on something. They conducted a few experiments in which they had business salesmen try out different approaches to “selling” others on what they had to offer. The two approaches they studied were perspective-taking and empathy.
The perspective taking approach involved understanding what the buyer was thinking, while the empathy approach involved understanding what the buyer was feeling. Each experiment began with a buyer and a seller who were completely at odds. (For example, the buyer’s highest price he was willing to pay was lower than the lowest price the seller was willing to offer.)
Since I’m a counselor, you’d probably expect I’m all about the feelings. And you’d be right. As I began reading the story of this research, I assumed the empathy/feeling side would prove to be the most influential. But to my surprise…
The research revealed that “taking the perspective of one’s opponent produced both greater joint gains and more profitable individual outcomes…. Perspective takers achieved the highest level of economic efficiency, without sacrificing their own material gains.”
In other words, by seeking to understand the other person’s perspective (by imagining what the other person is thinking and seeing the world through his/her eyes) you are more likely to reach a mutually beneficial solution AND not feel like you have sacrificed anything important.
Although originally applied in the “business world,” this research points to some of the most essential principles regarding how to connect with and influence others, including in your marriage or other personal relationships.
What This Means For You and Your Relationships
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood” – Steven Covey
When you find yourself in a situation in which you and your spouse (or friend, family member, co-worker, etc.) do not see eye to eye, take the initiative and start by seeking to understand where they are coming from. As best you can, imagine what they are thinking and why they are thinking that way. Step into their shoes. Get inside their head. Ask clarifying questions to help you understand better.
If the other person feels you are understanding their side of things, you have succeeded and will be well on your way to finding a solution that benefits the both of you.
[For the record, according to the research, the empathy side proved beneficial in creating movement as well, just not as much as the perspective takers. So, understanding one another’s feelings still matters and makes a difference 😉 ]