Or more commonly known as the ‘fundamental attribution error.’
You have to be able to see things from both sides. If your truth is the only truth than tragically you are missing at least half of the world. Perhaps you’re missing even more than that. If you can’t see a situation from a different perspective or at least acknowledge that there might be another perspective, you’re going to have a tough time in life. This is what I mean when I say that it’s a squircle, its half square and half circle.
This conjures images of a rounded square or a lumpy circle and that is precisely what it is. When viewed from one side it looks like a square but when viewed from the other side you would swear it’s a circle. People have actually made these things and it’s the most mind blowing optical illusion that you are ever going to see. Seriously, click here to check it out. It’s also the perfect visual metaphor for seeing things from both sides.
I have been teaching people for years that there is always at least 2 sides of a story. Normally the truth is somewhere in the middle. The truth is the squircle, it’s what you get when you combine both sides of the story. No matter how unlikely its existence seems it is the thing that, when viewed from the other side, looks like something else entirely.
We as human beings are predisposed to what psychologists call the ‘Fundamental Attribution’ error. In a nutshell this is the natural bias in all of us to judge another person by their actions and in the same breath, demand that we be judged on our intentions. When you do something because you were trying to help, you want credit for the intent of trying to help. On the other hand, when someone does something that causes harm, you immediately attribute their callous actions to some kind of malicious desire.
Can you imagine how confusing the world would get if we all did this? Oh wait, we do, all of us do.
Your natural ability to automatically see the negative makes it easy to focus in on someone else’s actions and assume that they have the hidden agenda of making your life a misery. Strangely, you don’t spend any of your waking life doing that to other people.
Is everyone that annoys you really that different from you?
Obviously the answer is no, they aren’t. They just want to help and they try to do it in the way that comes most natural to them. In the same way, you try to help them in a way that feels natural to you. The bad news is that you are not them and they are not you.
Your natural reactions to any given situation will cause you to act with the best of intentions but sometimes cause more distress then you had intended. The same thing is true of everyone else. At least you can draw some comfort from the knowledge that everyone else around you is making the same mistakes, for exactly the same reasons. They can’t see the whole picture, they can’t see the squircle.
So what can you do to step back, change perspective and look for the whole squircle? Here are 4 things that I do to help me see the squircle.
- recognise that you need to look.
- Imagine the worst from another’s point of view.
- Imagine the best of their intentions.
- Admit that you just don’t know.
Recognise that you need to look.
As soon as you think to yourself ‘I don’t get it’ you should think of the squircle. Thinking to yourself ‘I don’t get it’ is the same as admitting ‘I can’t see the other side’. If you’re feeling that you can’t understand what the other persons is talking about, that’s not a good thing. It’s time to admit that you need to step back and have a look at the situation from another perspective.
Imagine the worst from another’s point of view.
I used to get calls from customers who would say “Your technician said he would be here by 1. It’s now 3 and he’s still not here!”
To force a little perspective into the conversation I would match their intensity and say “That’s not like him. I hope he hasn’t been in an accident! Let me give him a call and see if he’s alright.”
By imagining the worst from another’s point of view you can start to see that there is a number of other ways that the situation could have arisen. You might even think of a reason for their actions that has nothing to do with you at all, which will be the truth at least half the time.
Imagine the best of their intentions.
On the highway the other morning I was stopped at a notorious bottleneck when I watched the lady in front of me reach for her phone. Her body language changed and she started typing frantically. When the traffic started rolling again she didn’t even look up, she just took the pressure off the brake and started rolling forward. Annoyed, I stayed back as far as I could so it would be easy for me to change lanes when she crashed into the car in front of her. After about 500 meters she put the phone gently back into the passenger seat and I could see her wipe the tears from both of her cheeks. I was immediately reminded of the squircle.
What circumstances would cause you to behave like them? Maybe they have a bad cold and don’t want to infect you. Maybe they are under stress at home or work and don’t want to take it out on you. Maybe their significant other has been diagnosed with a terrible disease and the stress is causing them to not think straight. If you can find a reason that you would do what they did, you can see the squircle.
Admit that you just don’t know.
These examples are but the tip of a very large iceberg. Another’s actions are exclusively their own and sometimes you do the same things. Once you start to realise that, you can jump straight to number 4 and admit that you just don’t know. For reducing stress, de-escalating conflict and generally having a better life, admitting that you can’t know what is going on inside someone else’s head is the best shortcut to take.
So remember look for that weird lumpy circle / rounded square. It’s easy to recognise because it looks like a circle from one perspective and a square when viewed from the other side. Only then you can truly know that you can see the both sides. Only then can you say that you can see the squircle.