Last weekend, I wrote about flying for a day over Antarctica and seeing the small red buildings that are Casey Research Station from the air. When I was researching what Casey Research Station does, I found photos of the staff on the ground taking photos of the plane I was in – and some people were waving at us. What a shame I couldn’t see them! Check out the photos here.
Talking with a close friend about this experience, we pondered about the different perspectives that I had at the time, looking at the station from the air compared to the people on the ground. I could only see very small red buildings that resembled Lego blocks and in some of the photos that were taken from the people on the ground, they could only see a small blob in the sky. We were all in a similar situation but looking at things from different points of view. See for the photos of the station staff out looking at and waving at the plane I was flying in.
“No matter how you make a pancake, it still has two sides” (Dr Phil McGraw)
This made me think about my auditing work and the different perspectives that I am often confronted with when working with clients. I am looking at the organisation and its systems from what I know of the standards they are being audited against as well as from longstanding experience of managing companies, staff and working with people who are striving to be the best they can be. I am very mindful that the people working for the organisation have their own perspectives about the auditing situation plus who I am as their auditor.
Sometimes we are closely aligned as we seek to uncover the many positive ways the organisation is addressing the standards – and sometimes we find ourselves far apart. When I realise that people see me as ‘the enemy’ or ‘out to find something bad about us’, regardless of my approach, I am left with a feeling of disappointment and sometimes a good deal of sadness. I know that audits have a ‘bad name’ and people have been damaged by these practices for a whole range of reasons. Yet there have been so many times when people tell me, ‘I couldn’t wait for you to come back to see all of the great things we have done since you were last here!’. For many people, audits can be a very positive experience and a situation where we have the opportunity to learn more and to look for ways to strengthen the great work that is being done.
Of course, my perspective on auditing is only one side of the story. The client has another perspective about the process and this can become very apparent in conversations with Board members, staff and clients. Their perspective is their own and something that I completely respect. There are many times when my perspective changes about the way organisations view and address different standards, and this comes from appreciating their work from their point of view. ‘Walking a mile in their shoes’ and looking at what they are doing from their point of view.
“Most misunderstandings in the world could be avoided if people would simply take the time to ask, “What else could this mean?” (Shannon L. Alder)
As an auditor, I can’t afford to have a fixed view about what is right or what is wrong – my own life has taught me that there are many shades of colour in amongst the grey! Sometimes my personal and professional challenge is when I am faced with other people’s perspective, particularly when they are fixed on a certain point of view and do not want to accommodate any other suggestions. In amongst this, of course, is my own awareness that I can come across in the same way i.e. fixed on a certain point of view about the standards and business practices. It is all about perspective, isn’t it?
I think there are some steps that can be considered when thinking about perspective. This includes:
- Reading more broadly – continually learning new ways of seeing the world.
- Spending time with people who have different opinions and perspectives about a number of issues – they can really open up your point of view!
- Zipping the lips! Taking the time to listen. As Stephen Covey says in his book, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, it is essential to Seek First To Understand, Than To Be Understood. This is a big principle addressing empathy and the importance of not pushing our own thoughts forward first. As Stephen points out, from the picture above, you see the old woman and I see the young girl – we are both right.
- Look at how you can view your own experiences through a different filter. Boy, this one can be really hard to do! When you are experiencing some thing you have never been in, felt or seen before, there is an opportunity to step back and look at what is happening from a different point of view.
- Look at the situation from an optimistic point of view. When feeling overwhelmed, be aware of your breathing and slow it down (I breathe very high up in my chest when I feel overwhelmed, something I didn’t realise I did in the past), feel or smell something pleasant, look at a different view before looking for other possibilities to the situation. Those other possibilities will be there!
“There is strange comfort in knowing that no matter what happens today, the Sun will rise again tomorrow.” (Aaron Lauritsen)
- When do you take time to regularly look for different perspectives? How can you make this a regular habit?
- What value could ‘what if…’ questions have in expanding your perspective about different issues?
- What can you do to be more aware of other people’s perspective and include those into a situation in an empathetic and valued way?