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🗣 The Dialogic Learning Weekly #206

The Dialogic Learning Weekly
🗣 The Dialogic Learning Weekly #206
By Tom Barrett • Issue #206 • View online
This week we explore how to shift our perspectives during leadership or developmental projects. We get into the potential of thinking from different vantage points and some practical ideas to try.
But to start, take a moment to look at the image below.
St Pancras International is one of my favourite buildings in London. Let’s practice shifting our perspectives around this scene.

Kings Cross and St. Pancras International by Andrei Ianovskii
Kings Cross and St. Pancras International by Andrei Ianovskii
If you were in the clock tower, at the very top, looking back on the photographer - what might you see? Or maybe from the windows of the Great Northern Hotel in the centre of the photograph. Would you hear something different from where you are? Now zoom down to street level. Imagine the sounds of the traffic, the Black cabs and the approaching bus. Imagine you just walked up from the underground into the fresh air - what might you be feeling?
The skills, dispositions and routines of shifting perspectives are powerful catalysts to better thinking and dialogue. Here is a selection of perspectives you can explore.
10 Ways to Shift Your Perspective
Here are ten different perspectives we can take when exploring a problem, design or development project.
Individual (introspective) - You might be tempted to skip over this one, but don’t underestimate the challenge of reflecting on what you truly feel or believe. And then communicate that.
Regular introspection and reflection give us the chance to capture what is happening with our disposition—the ups, downs and spirals.
Relational perspective - we will often say put relationships first. This founding principle of my business and how I work with people had often guided me when the next step was unclear.
Taking the perspective of the relationship is a valuable space to think and talk about. I appreciate how Diana McLain Smith outlines some of the assumptions of a robust relational perspective, which are often rare to see in practice.
The framing of relationships as a strategic asset and the “reasonable people can reasonably disagree” are ideas that resonate. What about you?
The Relational Perspective - Diana McLain Smith
The Relational Perspective - Diana McLain Smith
This perspective is based on a core belief best expressed by Karl Popper: “While differing widely in the various little bits we know, in our infinite ignorance we are all equal.”
The Systems Thinker – Shifting Perspective to Shift Results
Retrospective - Looking back is a critical perspective to explore. Future innovations will build on the success of the past. They are not disconnected.
Prospective - Move your perspective and frame of reference forward in time. Scan the horizon and look ahead. What are you looking forward to? I imagine a time when…
Prospective Hindsight - Stay in that future moment and look back on today. What do you wish you had done sooner with this project? If only we had…
Organisation perspective - when you take the broader organisation’s view, we detach from any individual and look for collective insight.
There are a whole bunch of anthropomorphic perspectives you could explore that stem from this.
  • What would next year’s budget say about this?
  • If our current outdoor facilities had a seat at this table, what would they say to us?
  • I hear that pile of desktop PCs moaning at me every time I walk passed the storeroom? “Why!!”
It can be fun and imaginative work. Our playful exploration of alternative perspectives can stretch and morph into lots of different shapes and sizes—a sophisticated mixture of critical and creative thinking. By casting our net widely, we might surface an undiscovered insight.
Richard Boston outlines four broadening perspectives. I have included some elaborations from Jacqueline Conway’s article to help us distinguish between them.
The first-person perspective - we’re concerned only with our point of view: ‘this is what I think; this is how I feel.’
The second-person perspective - the thoughts and feelings of another person, we take the stance of: ‘I can understand and appreciate how you feel – even if I don’t agree.’
The third-person perspective - allows us to take a more objective position.
In the third-person perspective you might ask, ‘What’s really going on here?’ It’s in this space that we lift ourselves up to take the helicopter view. Crucially, we resist ‘taking on’ one or other of the points of view of the individuals involved and instead look at the interaction and the situation without the biases, filters and mind traps that are inevitable when we occupy either the first- or second-person perspective.
The fourth-person perspective - above all of the noise of multiple perspectives, there’s a deeper structure to what’s going on.
The ability to take this meta-perspective is what’s required in the fourth-person ‘witness’ perspective. From this stance, we’re aware of the context in which relationships play out. We see that there is a deep structure to the nature of the problem and that the people involved are often unwittingly caught up in that structure.
Next we will look at some other practical strategies to make the most of shifting perspectives.
Assume You Are Wrong
It is all well and good to shift perspectives in various ways, but it isn’t significant unless we do something with that new insight.
We cannot be guarded or defensive about an alternative version or viewpoint.
If we are to make the most of a new perspective, we need to let the insight in. Nobody is saying you need to agree. For our thinking (and so our projects) to improve, we first have to leave the door open to other insights adding value.
What if we had the humility to accept that we don’t have all the answers; that the answers that we have might be wrong; and that those with insightful new perspectives might be located in the most unusual and humblest of places? This attitude has the potential to shift the dominant either/or narrative in our culture to an altogether more fruitful place.
Here is an example set of protocols I use when starting design and development sessions. The last time I used these as part of a moderation session for student observations.
Have a go; you are welcome to use them. At the start of a session, display the following protocols and spend 5-10mins defining them and exploring why they are essential to you.
  1. We are non-judgmental; this is a safe space to share our understanding.
  2. We assume that we are wrong. We are all trying to be less wrong.
  3. We are open to other perspectives and ideas.
  4. We expect to be hard on content, soft on people.
Leadership and the Art of Shifting Perspective - Waldencroft
Is this a good time to share some feedback?
You may recall we explored the endeavour of ‘being less wrong’ in issue #178.
The assumption of right or wrong is a useful addition to our understanding of why some people are so ineffective at receiving feedback.
Assuming you are right might be a motivating force, sustaining the enormous effort that conducting scientific work requires. But it also makes it easy to construe criticisms as personal attacks, and for scientific arguments to devolve into personal battles. Beginning, instead, from the assumption you are wrong, a criticism is easier to construe as a helpful pointer, a constructive suggestion for how to be less wrong — a goal that your critic presumably shares.
How do we turn this into a practical method or tactic?
  • Think about something you might say or the language you use that signals readiness for feedback.
  • What language shows you are beginning from the assumption ‘you are wrong’?
  • How do you know if someone has an open disposition and is ready to listen to constructive suggestions?
A New Goal: Aim To Be Less Wrong
By explicitly naming a perspective you take in a dialogue, you offer cues for others to understand you better. Your challenge is to use the perspectives, in this newsletter, as tools for development. Try one on for size and practice. Let me know how you get on.
I am keen to expand my understanding and thinking about porting, translating or dislocating our perspective to aid strategy and development.
⚡️ When has shifting perspectives worked for you? What activities or protocols help you reveal new insights?
💡 Drop me a reply and share your ideas.
Thanks for joining me this week. Enjoy the weekend when it arrives. See you again next Friday. If you feel like sharing this newsletter with one or two colleagues who would also value it, I would be grateful.
Let me know what resonates.
In dialogue we trust
~ Tom
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Tom Barrett

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