IN DALE CARNEGIE'S classic book, How to Win Friends and Influence People,
Carnegie lists 30 principles, but Carnegie knew you really only
have to follow one rule, and all the others will be done naturally:
Try to see things from the other person's point of view. Carnegie
knew it and you know it. It is the secret to good human relationships.
But here's something you may not know:
You can do it visually. You can do it auditorily by asking,
"How would I feel if I had just lost my job?" or whatever
the case may be. You can ask yourself questions that make you
think about what it would be like to be that other person. But
you can also do it visually. You can imagine actually seeing
out the other person's eyes. Imagine literally seeing from the
other person's point of view. Physically. If they are shorter
than you, try to imagine what the world would be like from that
height. Try to actually imagine being that person, and
include all you know about them.
Do this, and your interactions with that
person will be higher quality. It takes a little effort, but
you won't break a sweat. It's all in your head.
The ability to empathize is the cornerstone
of good human relationships. And good human relationships will
make your life easier and better in a thousand different ways.
For example, in a study by researchers
from Vanderbilt University, doctors who didn't listen well or
look at things from the patient's point of view got twice as
many complaints from their patients and were sued more often
than doctors with good human relations.
Another researcher found that taxpayers
who are being audited are five times more likely to be denied
a request by the auditor if they are interacting poorly. In this
study, by Loretta Stalans, Ph.D., at Loyola University, the poor
human relations was caused by negative expectations. In other
words, if the taxpayer thought the auditors were out to get them,
they didn't interact well, and the auditors responded to the
bad interactions negatively.
Most coaching on human relations is about
behavior. But part of good human relations is your point of view
having a point of view that helps your relationships.
And in the case of dealing with people, it's almost always useful
to assume the best. When dealing with people, assume they are
fair, reasonable, and honest until they prove otherwise. Assume
they will like you. Assume that if they are grumpy, it is because
of something they ate or a fight with their spouse. Do not assume
they are just a jerk or that they are out to get you.
Your point of view will have an effect on the other person. A
negative point of view is not useful in 99.9% of the interactions
you'll have in your life.
Other studies have shown that police tend
to be more lenient with people who treat them with respect. And
they throw the book at disrespectful, angry, or defensive people.
Of course. So does everyone else. Cops are people too, and they
respond like any other person. Your point of view influences
your attitude, and your attitude influences the attitudes of
people toward you.
But this principle of trying to see the
other person's point of view is not just about good human relations.
Getting a different point of view can be useful in just about
At one time I was plagued with injuries.
I had always lifted weights, and then suddenly at age 36, I started
having tendon and ligament pain in different parts of my body
at different times. It was painful, but the significance of it
weighed more heavily than the pain. What did this mean? I
wondered. Would I have to give up lifting weights? Am I getting
old? If I stop lifting, will I get fat? And so on. Worries.
I tried to look at it from several points
of view. I imagined my old coach from high school sitting in
the chair next to me. What would my problem look like to him?
I imagined being on the moon and having a super-powerful telescope
that could see through the atmosphere, and I imagined looking
down on me sitting there in my living room. My problem looked
different from there.
But the most valuable was imagining me
at 90 years old standing on the other side of the room looking
at me as a 36 year-old. That point of view straightened out my
thinking. Several times after that, when the worries came up
in my mind again, I remembered to look at it again from the perspective
of myself at 90. The worries stopped, and I got on with living.
This is but one of many different ways you can use this principle.
Let's look at some others.
perspective influences attitude
Keeping a good attitude doesn't come naturally
for most people. In a way, society is in a conspiracy to make
people conform, and good attitudes are not the norm. "Every
story has a villain," says Morris Goodman, "Mine is
society itself. Society conditions us to lose."
Morris has climbed from dirt-poor beginnings
and succeeded. As many successful people do, he bought an airplane,
but on a trip, it stalled and crashed, breaking half the bones
in his body, including two vertebrae. He was pronounced dead.
But he had trained himself to take on a different point of view,
even if the prognosis was dismal, as it was in his case. One
at a time, he mastered each task his doctors said he'd never
be able to do again.
"Society conditions us to lose."
That may be true. But it is definitely true that we can condition
ourselves to win. An important step in that direction is to become
more flexible with the points of view you accept. A doctors prognosis
or "what everyone knows" are only points of view, and
often not very useful, productive, or healthy. Train yourself
to find other points of view. Keep those that serve your best
The head football coach for Florida State
University, Bobby Bowden feels responsible for his players' actions,
and sometimes needs to discipline them. "Long ago,"
he says, "I made up my mind not to make decisions based
on public opinion. I never wanted anybody telling me how to discipline
my players. I try to treat these players as I would my own children."
So he is coaching the team from the point
of view of a father. But, he says, "People write to me saying
how a kid is a 'disgrace to the team' and that I ought to kick
him off. I write back and ask, 'What if he were your son? What
would you want me to do then?' Usually I don't get a letter back."
The point of view he has adopted is these
players are like his children and he is like the father, and
this point of view guides his actions successfully.
a radical shift in perspective
When you feel angry, you tend to make a
certain facial expression. You look angry. Someone you
know could look at you and know you're angry, right? Probably.
But did you also know that if you deliberately make an angry
face when you're not feeling angry it will make
you feel a little angry? And if you were hooked up to heart-rate
monitors and blood pressure cuffs and that sort of thing, the
readings would change when you made that face. When you are angry,
your heart rate goes up, your blood pressure goes up, your skin
temperature rises, your skin makes extra sweat (maybe not noticeable
to you, but it can be measured).
The point of all of this is that when you
feel anger (or fear), your body has a certain response, naturally.
And when you make facial expressions of those feelings even when
you're not feeling it at the moment, those facial expressions
will make you feel those emotions. And it changes your body's
chemistry to be more like those emotions.
But the scientists who discovered these
things were Americans and the experimental subjects were also
Americans. Now, the question was, did Americans have that response
because it is part of our culture, or is it genetic? Would
people in other cultures have the same response? Two researchers
wanted to find out: Robert Levenson, PhD, and Paul Ekman, PhD.
So they traveled to West Sumatra in Indonesia
and studied a culture about as different from ours as you can
get: The Minangkabau. They are agrarian, Muslim, matrilineal
(following the female line), and they discourage all outward
expressions of negative emotions.
The researchers hooked them up to the same
monitors, and showed them what facial expressions to try on,
and when they made those faces, their bodies reacted the same
way Americans' did: Heart rates increased, skin temperatures
But here's the odd part. They didn't feel
angry or fearful like Americans did.
"In our culture," says Levenson,
"we focus on the physiological sensations that happen when
we feel emotions. This is in fact one of the most important aspects
of emotion for us."
It's hard to conceive of it otherwise,
isn't it? That is such a basic part of our culture, it doesn't
seem like a cultural thing at all. What else would emotion be
but a direct physical sensation? But you have learned
"In their culture," said Levenson,
"the people are more entwined. Emotions define their relationships,
not bodily sensations." For example, to a Minangkabau, anger
is not how her body responds, anger is when a friend is mad at
"Physiological responses to emotions
are hard-wired into us," explains Levenson, "they're
common for all people. But what we do with that information is
culturally variable." The Minangkabau have a different perspective
Many of the points of view you and I have
are not the only points of view possible. And sometimes they
are not the most useful. The Minangkabau probably have some distinct
advantages from thinking differently about emotion. I am not
recommending that point of view, because our point of view probably
has advantages too. But I am recommending a flexibility
of points of view. And how you gain that flexibility is to deliberately
try on different points of view.
In your imagination, try to see things
from different points of view. And then choose the most helpful
or useful point of view rather than simply seeing things from
your automatic point of view. Your habitual way of looking at
things may sometimes be the most useful, but many times you can
find a better one. And it is worth doing.
The way things look to you has a lot to do with the way you look
Take a look from several points
and pick the most useful.