When I was 22-years-old, I was working as a Web Editor at an online media company. It was my second job out of college and my first real dabble into the world of digital marketing. I was nervous about joining the team because I had BIG responsibilities ahead. Each Web Editor was given about 10-15 client accounts to manage, and we became the main editorial and content strategist for some of the biggest tech companies out there—AT&T, Sprint, Panasonic, etc. Our job, among other things, was to build a strong digital presence for these companies, leveraging the power of content marketing and SEO—two huge buzzwords at the time.
As if that was not daunting enough, I was joining the Editorial Group that had 8 other Web Editors in the exact same position with me, all between the ages of 21 and 25. A team dynamic that without question can breed competition and paranoia.
Immediately, things did not go as planned.
Within days of joining, I felt as if I was back in high school. While I was focused on doing a good job and getting noticed by my boss, my behaviors were perceived by the others as brown-nosing. Immediately I felt left out, as the “popular” Web Editors left me out of lunches, Skype conversations and post-work Happy Hours.
On the one hand, I didn’t care. My sole objective was to do good work and quickly make my way up the ladder. But on the other, I cared tremendously. I felt ostracized. I didn’t’ understand why my passion was being misconstrued as “teacher’s pet” tendencies. I believed—without a shadow of doubt—that they were always talking about me behind my back.
My perspective was that I worked with Mean Girls. And so it became my reality. There were times when that perspective moved me forward—serving as the fuel I needed to do awesome work and yes, in fact, get promoted. But it also held me, and the department, back. We couldn’t figure out how to work well with one another. Our own feelings about each other got in the way of achieving larger departmental goals. Instead of trying to talk things through and understand each other better, we made sure to keep the divide alive.
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But I bet their perspective was different. I bet they would tell you a different tale that would be a completely different account than my take.
So who is right in this scenario?
Neither of us.
The reality is that likely, over the months of working together, we each developed a perspective of each other that became our version of the truth. The narratives we would tell ourselves—”she’s a teacher’s-pet,” “they are mean”—became the only stories we could see. In fact, any evidence that presented to counter the narrative was likely viewed as fake.
And the reality is that our negative perspectives of each other had consequences on the business.
What is Real?
Perspective is one of the greatest and most damaging members of any company. Perspective shows up each and every day at the office and can truly only be understood by the person whose feet fit inside the shoes. Sometimes, Perspective serves us well and allows us to move the needle forward on projects, deliverables and outcomes—even when we have different opinions because our shared desire to work together and learn from one another is our governing goal. Other times, Perspective is the very reason that as businesses, we can’t seem to get out of our own way.
Consider, for a moment, just how common these scenarios are:
- Companies hit a lull in business and growth and each department quickly plays the blame game to one another
- One executive feels 100 percent confident in proposing and executing against a company pivot, while the other feels adamant about “staying the course” and so the company does nothing because no one wants to “give in”
- A company feels they are delivering amazing customer service, while ratings like NPS and customer surveys paint a different tale
- Two work colleagues engage in a heated discussion and both leave with a completely different account of what was said and what actually happened
- Employees in one department feel they work for a company with a healthy culture and strong collaboration while employees in another department would describe the culture as “toxic”
Who is right and who is wrong in the scenarios above?
Sometimes, the answer is clear. We shouldn’t after all, blame Perspective on factually “bad” behaviors in business like ignoring client feedback, pivoting in a direction that poses grave organizational risk, or hiring employees that are counter to our culture.
But I would contend that more often than not, the answer is gray. Because perspective is gray.
Your perspective is shaped by your life experiences, beliefs, values, memories, assumptions, relationships and personal point of view, among a myriad of other things. The psychology experts state your perspective is not right or wrong. It is merely your point of view. So how then, do we move forward in business when my perspective says, “I am right” and your perspective says, “You are wrong.”
Some of the best-selling leadership and development books will advocate for tips such as:
- Step into someone else’s shoes to see their perspective
- Bring in a fresh set of eyes to validate or challenge the current perspective
- Assume positive intent before you assume mal-intent
- Shift your perspective so you can see things more clearly
- Gain objectivity whenever you can, through mentorship, consulting, advising, etc.
All of this is fantastic advice to heed (and hard to do when we are in the throes of it!), but I want to throw in one more:
Consider how your perspective is both moving and holding your organization back.
Each and every day our point of view accompanies us to work. It comes to meetings. It attends work functions. It listens in on phone conversations. It sends emails. If it’s ever-present, we need to check in with it more regularly… to understand how it is both serving and hurting us and those around us.
In business, we get stuck… a lot. Innovation comes to a screeching halt. We build good departments but not great departments because we can’t see around the tumbleweeds. We experience conflict with coworkers, clients and partners that is sometimes not rooted in anything other than what we believe to be true. We hit lulls in terms of execution because we lose team buy-in.
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So, the next time we get stuck, instead of jumping to who is right and who is wrong, start by asking yourself a simple question.
Is my perspective on what’s happening helping or holding back my organization from reaching success?
If the answer is the latter, it might be time to shift your perspective, check in with an accountability partner, and remember that your perspective is neither right nor wrong. It is just your reality.
We help companies like yours examine areas of challenge and growth through objectivity and a clean lens. If you have hit a roadblock in terms of innovation, transformation or leadership, drop us a note. Our Consulting & Advisory Services are designed to help you get un-stuck and shift your perspective.