Have you ever been absolutely sure that you were right about someone else's bad thoughts, hostile feelings or harmful intentions only to later find that you were wrong? I have.
During the time that you held this mistaken view of their perspective, did you act in ways that made the conflict worse? I did.
When you later learned of their true thoughts, feelings, or intentions; did you then realize how your own words and actions had contributed to the escalating conflict between you? That was my experience.
The title of this post has become one of the most powerful conflict resolution concepts that I personally work to apply. Learning to question my perspective before judging someone else's (my spouse, my kids, my colleagues, or clients) has saved me from speaking or acting in harmful ways on more occasions than I can now recall. Sadly, when I don't question my perspective and rush to action based on my judgment of someone else's intentions, I usually get it wrong.
In an effort to offer some practical guidance to assist you in this process, I'll give three questions you can ask yourself the next time a conflict starts to brew:
1) Did they mean what I think they mean?
Maybe they really are angry. Maybe they did mean to insult you. Maybe they want to harm you in some way.
Or, maybe they are hurt. Maybe they didn't realize that you took their comment personally. Maybe they are reacting to fear with a desire to protect themselves but no desire to harm you. Before you get angry, find a way figure out what they really meant.
2) Is there something going on here that I don't understand fully?
Are they angry, or are they tired? Did they have a tough night with their sick child last night? Are they sick? Are they frustrated over lack of progress on a project? Any of these issues could cause the stress to push people to say and do things they would not ordinarily say or do. Before you judge too harshly, find out what's happening in their life.
3) Did I do something to trigger that response in them?
Do I owe them something that is now late? Did they have an expectation of me that I did not meet? Did I say something that they received as an insult or put down? Even if the action was unintentional, any of these could generate a negative response from the other person. Before you decide that they are the problem, check your own past actions.
Learn to question your perspective. It can take the edge off of your response so that you resolve conflicts faster and more productively.