Overview of perspective taking 

Perspective taking is an important skill for all scientists and citizens to develop. By exploring other perspectives, you can better understand different experiences and viewpoints. This will in tern help you to build connections, empathize with others and effectively communicate. Doing these things are essential to being an effective advocate for others, understanding how your work impacts and may be perceived by different communities, and communicating science to different audiences.

While a number of strategies can be helpful in practice perspective taking, a few specific approaches that we would recommend include: 

  • Seek to understand - When engaging in conversations to understand a different perspective set aside your personal goals and instead focus on their lived experiences and their way if perceiving the world.
  • Ask good questions - In order to better understand the perspective, ask non-judgmental questions that don't lead to a particular response and help you understand the other person's viewpoint
  • Think critically - Use critical thinking and metacognition to navigate common obstacles of perspective taking and recognize things that may be coming up for you as you listen.
  • Display empathy - As you engage in the conversation, strive to display welcoming body language, listen without interrupting, and validate their feelings.

Obstacles to perspective taking

As you practice developing your skills in perspective taking and engage in conversations to understand someone else's perspective it is important to keep your eyes open to some of the internal mind bugs that may come up and get in the way of effectively understanding a differing perspective.

  1. Fundamental attribution error - While you blame others for bad things that happen to them, you tend to blame external situations when bad things happen to you.
  2. Naïve realism - Believing you see the world objectively and as it truly is, and then expecting other rational beings to see the world similarly. 
  3. Intergroup bias - Preferring members of your in-group and having prejudice against out-group members.
  4. Confirmation bias - Selectively focusing on information that confirms your existing beliefs.

While perspective taking is a skill that we should all be actively partaking in every day, like any other skill, there’s always room for improvement and development. And sometimes the only way for growth to occur is retrospectively where we may need to reflect on past experiences where we either excelled or fell short at it. 

Perspective Taking Quick Guide Perspective Taking Reflection

Exploring impact through perspective taking

Since we all see and experience the world differently, this means that two people can perceive the same experience very differently, or the intent of your action may have a very different impact what received by others. In the articles below you can read two different accounts of the same experience.

As you read each of the stories, consider the what information would have been helpful for both parties to know that wasn't communicated to each other. How could knowing those key pieces have changed this interaction for the better?

Read the first perspective Read the other perspective

Perspective taking

Check out this three minute video for a quick overview on what we mean when we talk about perspective taking.

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PLAYLIST: Middle ground

Explore different perspectives on a variety of topics though Jubilee Media's YouTube series, Middle Ground. In this series two groups of people from different backgrounds are brought together to discuss a variety of prompts all related to a specific topic in the episode.  

Middle ground playlist

PODCAST: How to save a planet

This video can show you how one politician uses perspective taking to engage in conversation related to climate change.

You can also hear more about the conversation between Bob Inglis and his son that changed his view on climate change in the podcast below.

Listen to podcast

ARTICLE: Perspective taking: a brain hack that can help you make better decisions

Learn about the neural basis of perspective-taking and the different strategies you can use to exercise the brain muscles involved in perspective taking.

Read article