It’s hard to get fresh perspective about our situation or the other person when we’re trapped inside a conflict. This simple question is excellent for tempering our certainty, engaging our curiosity, and sparking a shift in perspective when we need it most.
Before I was a mediator, I was a college dean, VP, and assistant professor. And before that, I was an assistant dean. A large portion of that job called on me to deal with student behavior problems.
I had countless conversations with countless undergraduates about making different behavior choices in the classroom, the dorm room, and off campus.
Fortunately, the dean I reported to was an incredible mentor. To this day, long past my own tenure as a dean, I still use some of the ideas and methods I learned from Kay all those years ago.
One of them was this: Whenever you think you know why somebody did something, ask,
I’ve seen others use this question over the years, but as far as I’m concerned, Kay asked it first.
When you’re ticked off about the way they treated you, give yourself the gift of fresh perspective by asking, What else could this be?
When your spouse or teen does that thing that so frustrates you, and you’re so very sure you know why, ask yourself, What else could this be?
When an employee or a client is so trapped by their own certainty, help them find their own shift in perspective by asking, What else could this be?
Sometimes, a person isn’t ready to consider the question yet in any real way. So plant a seed and allow it some time to germinate. If it’s an important conflict, it will be worth tending to.