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Seeking Contrary Perspectives


As a leader, do you want to have more influence? Do you want to communicate better with more people? Do you want to make more effective decisions and have more successful transformation projects? Then you need to practice the key leadership skill of seeking out contrary points of view.

Contrary points of view make transformation more effective!

Making good decisions requires a firm grasp on reality and the facts of a situation. Being successful in your project requires a good understanding of the implications and consequences of different solutions. Getting buy-in and acceptance from people in your organization or community requires them to trust you and to be willing to follow your leadership. All these aspects of leading transformation are supported when you seek out and are open to contrary points of view. You’ll need to take three steps to properly incorporate contrary perspectives into your decision-making and solution design process.

Gather More Facts

It’s so comfortable to be immersed in a community of people who think just like we do. Transformational change that is built upon a narrow view is doomed to failure. In that situation, we often don’t understand why our re-designed process isn’t working; we don’t understand why we aren’t meeting our implementation goals; and don’t understand why people aren’t embracing the beautiful solution we designed with people who mostly see the world like we do. We don’t understand why we are failing because we didn’t seek contrary perspectives.

Listening to different perspectives helps us gather more facts and develop a better understanding of reality. This reminds me of the story of the six blind men and the elephant: Six blind men were brought to different parts of an elephant and asked to describe it. The one who touched the leg said an elephant is like a tree trunk. One, who touched his ears, said an elephant is like a fan. The one who touched the trunk said an elephant is like a giant snake. One, who felt the tusk, said an elephant is as sharp as a spear. The one who touched the tail said an elephant is like a rope, and the one that touched the elephant’s side said it is solid like a wall. None of these six blind men had the full picture of what an elephant was. Similarly, if we don’t get a full picture through different perspectives, we fall into the trap of bias and blind spots, which impairs our ability to design and implement an effective transformation solution. 

Some ways to get more facts:

  • Before making decisions, conduct objective research and collect data from independent sources about the situation you are facing.
  • Specifically identify people, teams, or organizations that have different or opposing opinions about the situation and engage them in gathering data.
  • Bring different sources of data together; find objective ways to confirm data that has been collected; and move the team toward agreement on a common set of facts.   

Having a solid foundation of factual information helps you take the next step in understanding the consequences of different solutions. 

Understand Impact and Consequences

Completing the first task of gathering facts and developing a better understanding of reality will help ensure that you can identify all or most of the people, teams, or organizations that will be impacted by your decisions. Realize that many of these stakeholders will have contrary perspectives on the situation, and it’s important to understand those. Conduct in-depth discussions and share potential solutions with them to better understand their point of view and the downstream impact of the different solutions you are considering.

With this information, transformation solutions can be designed to meet the needs of different stakeholders, can be modified to be effective, and can be refined to have fewer negative consequences. Discussions about the impact of potential decisions and solutions will highlight practical change management actions that need to be taken to communicate, train, and prepare people and teams for implementation. 

Some ways to get more context on impact:

  • Conduct stakeholder workshops to facilitate in-depth discussions.
  • Collect anecdotal information and user-stories to provide better understanding of the current situation and how different solutions might affect stakeholders.
  • Document your work, including the current situation, the future state you want to realize, the key changes that will be required, and the impact to each affected population.

Effectively engaging stakeholders with contrary perspectives in discussions before designing a final solution will increase the probability that your transformation will be successful. You have also laid the groundwork for more trust and influence across a larger part of the organization.

Practice Empathy

Considering the impacts for different stakeholders gives a leader more empathy for people who have a different point of view. Completing the first two steps of the process before considering the emotional impact of your decisions is important. Having a more comprehensive understanding of likely negative consequences helps you balance considerations across different impacted populations. This understanding will highlight practical change management actions that must be taken to relieve stress, reduce conflict, and overcome challenges. It also can identify areas of high resistance, giving you time to provide incentives and support for these groups to adapt to the new environment. When different groups feel that their input has been heard and considered, it is easier to create a sense of community to address a situation and design a solution. 

Some ways to create more buy-in:

  • Conduct role-playing with different groups to help them “walk in the shoes” of those with different perspectives and design a solution that meets more people’s needs.
  • Maintain constructive conversations and avoid winner/loser scenarios.
  • Document the impact of different solutions and the work required to overcome resistance, and help different groups of people adapt successfully in the new environment.

Practicing empathy within the context of factual data, with a clear understanding of impacted groups and the consequences of different solutions, is more effective than responding emotionally to a situation from a single perspective (yours). 

Seeking contrary points of view is not always popular and in fact, seems quite unpopular today.  We may find ourselves in an environment that encourages win/lose outcomes and silences differing points of view, so it will take leadership and courage to seek and be open to contrary perspectives. However, effectively doing this will:

  • Increase the trust and respect that people have for you
  • Give you the ability to communicate more effectively to a larger population
  • Allow you more opportunities to influence others and widen their perspective
  • Strengthen relationships
  • Make your decisions and your solutions more effective

I would argue that as project leaders, we have much more to lose if we aren’t actively seeking and staying open to contrary perspectives. 

“The way of the fool seems right in his own eyes, but he who listens to advice is wise” Proverbs 12:15

Additional Resources

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About the Author

Annette Leazer, CMA, PMP, SAFe SA, is a business transformation coach focused on creating more effective operations and greater business value. Both vision and execution are key to motivate people to transform work. She guides leaders to develop transformation vision and strategy, structure implementation projects and roadmaps, and mentor project teams to be successful. Her blog and newsletter share transformation tips, resources and best practices. Did you find this tip helpful? Subscribe to my Transformation Tips newsletter!


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