Different Perspectives (They’re Not a Threat)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This post is an update of a previously published reader favorite.

Differences of opinion can be inconvenient and uncomfortable. We may be in a discussion with someone who has very different views from ours on a topic of great importance to us. How we handle it shows others the inner workings of our character.

When we are not open to learning, we can easily misinterpret another perspective that does not match our own as a threat.

We have all been in conversations with people who are open to hearing what we have to say and those who are not. When we perceive an idea as a threat, it may be a signal that we are CLOSED to learning. And that may lead us right into unethical territory, to disrespectful interpersonal behavior.

Is it A Threat or an Opportunity?

As you review these descriptions, think about your recent conversations. Was the other person OPEN or CLOSED to learning? Did they perceive a difference of opinion as a threat or an opportunity to learn?

Sees a Difference of Opinion as a Threat:

  • Different ideas are direct threats to my position.
  • When we disagree, only one of us can be right.
  • Listening to dissenting opinions is dangerous and should be avoided.
  • People who disagree with my position should be belittled and put in their place to reduce their power.

Sees a Difference of Opinion as an Opportunity to Learn:

  • When we disagree, we might both be describing different parts of a bigger concept.
  • Listening doesn’t mean we have to change our beliefs, but we are open to that if it happens.
  • Listening to dissenting opinions increases our understanding of issues we care about.
  • Ethical leadership requires us to respect people and differences of perspective even when those differences may make us uncomfortable.

Staying Open to Learning

If differences of opinion set off our “threat detection” system and make us angry, that may be a sign that we are closed to learning. I have noticed over the years that perceiving the ideas of others as a threat is signal that we need to listen.

“We are naturally wired to see what’s wrong—to perceive risk, to notice a threat, to react.”

Ann Deaton, A Powerful Shift of Perspective, wecanbounce.com

Override your threat detection system when you hear information that goes against your current views. This week, notice what sets off your threat detection system, and see what you can learn when you choose to override it and instead remain open to learning.

Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership


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