Happy New Year and New Decade! It’s time to set new goals, take advantage of new opportunities and build great memories in 2020. One goal I have is to consistently seek out different perspectives concerning people, professional topics and challenges.
A few weeks back, I was driving to an appointment and the car directly in front of me started to drive extremely slow. I expected it to speed up. It didn’t. As my annoyance grew, I thought this person surely doesn’t know how to drive. In full transparency, I started to develop a negative mental picture of the driver’s characteristics. Just in a matter of seconds, I had let something annoy me and developed a negative opinion about someone I didn’t know. I finally drove around the slow driver. I noticed there was another vehicle in front of the car driving extremely slow with smoke coming from the engine area. Just like that, the new perspective had changed my opinion of the driver. I instantly thought about how the previous few seconds had built up negative energy and all of the sudden, it was gone. My experience brought back the thought about the benefits of having perspective, varying points of view and seeing things through more than one lens.
Obviously, this is not some new concept. I’m sure just like me, you’ve been taught this lesson plenty of times through the years. However, for some reason, this particular experience resonated with me. If I had just observed from a different view, I would have noticed the smoking car and not negatively judged the driver in front of me. If I had just the right perspective and information, my opinion would have been different. I applied the concept to my job as a student affairs professional and considered how a little more information and context would contribute to a better understanding of my students, colleagues, and institutional leadership. Buying into the importance of seeking and analyzing different points of view leads to better decision-making, workplace relationships, student customer service and sincere buy-in to change.
In order to consistently expose ourselves to different points of view, we must purposely seek it. Here are a few suggestions on how to make it easier to gain different professional perspectives.
Diversify Your Network and Mentors
I often find some of the people I respect most, will have very different opinions on how to tackle a problem. Having a network and mentors that come from different cultural, professional and ideological backgrounds provides more options on how to tackle an issue.
Take Time to Investigate Past the Initial Narrative
During times of professional change, we often start to hear a dominant narrative. Before jumping in with the crowd, ask your own questions and do a little investigating. Just because the narrative makes sense does not mean it’s true.
Consistently Challenge Generalizations
“This type of student always does this”, “Faculty always do that”, “Our retention rate always goes down during this time”. It is just easier to generalize people and problems. Challenge yourself to find the unique makeup of groups and challenges.
Double Down On Empathy
Before jumping to a conclusion, make the initial effort to empathize with your colleagues and students. Putting yourself in their shoes gives you the peace of mind that you’re looking at the issue from at least one more perspective. This can make all the difference on how you move forward.
Prioritize Observation and Active Listening
You can gain perspective by just observing and listening. Block out all the noise and mentally note what you actually see and hear. This is just as important as your own research and network feedback.
Build Your Capacity for Patience
Patience has a way of leading to calm and constructive thought. The discipline of patience gives us the time and opportunity to take the correct action, instead of immediately reacting without the proper perspective.
As you begin 2020, think about being proactive in seeking out various perspectives. Give yourself the gift of informed decision-making and engagement.
Please let me know if you have any questions or thoughts on how you can contribute to African American Knowledge Community, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, please feel free to visit the AAKC NASPA site at https://www.naspa.org/constituent-groups/kcs/African-American.
Hope to see you all in Chicago this year for the 2020 NASPA Regional IV-West/IV-East Conference.
God bless and good luck,
Michael E. Harris
African American Knowledge Community Representative
Career Development Specialist
Tulsa Community College