Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Seeing Ourselves Through The Other Person’s Eyes

Would you like to see yourself as others see you? One of the activities I use in a class on working more effectively with challenging employees is to have participants discuss the work situation from the viewpoint of the challenging employee. Many participants are so convinced they are in the right that they cannot see how the employee could have anything to criticize, or how the employee could justify any of his or her own actions. As a result, at first they talk about themselves, from the supposed viewpoint of employees, in only positive ways. It sounds nice but it is almost certainly not accurate!

What supervisors at first reflect as the thoughts of employees about a conflict. “Bill is a good supervisor but he pushes me to do really excellent work and I don’t like that. I want to do as little as I can and still get paid full pay for it.” “My supervisor, Mary, insists on me acting professional in the office and I don’t understand why I can’t keep acting rude to people.” “Don makes me get to work on time and he holds me to high standards. I hate it!”

The more likely truth about the thoughts of employees. Do you think those are accurate about the likely viewpoints of their challenging employees? When I stop students and make them reflect more accurately, they will finally–though grudgingly–talk about themselves in a way that is much more likely correct:

“Bill never approves of anything I do, even though my work is always better than any other employee’s work. He says he just wants me to keep improving, but since nothing is ever good enough, after awhile I don’t even feel like trying. I find it strange that he is the first supervisor who has ever complained about my work.”

“Since Mary started she has taken all the fun out of our office. I have a tremendous sense of humor that other employees enjoy, and past supervisors have commended me for my interpersonal skills. Now, out of the clear blue sky Mary says I’m offensive. I’ve asked every single coworker and they say they haven’t been offended by anything I’ve ever said. I think Mary is so hypersensitive she assumes everyone is the same way.”

“I have child care problems that sometimes make me late by a few minutes, so I stay late in the afternoon to make up for it. But that isn’t good enough for Don. He comes to work two hours early and thinks everyone else should do the same thing.  I have so much stress on me already I’m about ready to fall apart, and then he adds this! I don’t know if I can take much more.”

I do not advocate beating ourselves up over what is often the skewed opinions of employees who are having problems at work. However, it can be very worthwhile to realize that when we are talked about by employees at home–and we inevitably will be–the statements always will provide mitigation for the employee and put the bulk of the blame on us or others. A key factor is that the employee probably believes it and feels genuinely aggrieved.

What employees sometimes reflect about the thoughts of supervisors. The same thing happens when I ask participants in other classes to discuss themselves from their supervisor’s viewpoints. Once again, most employees want to present the situation in a way that puts themselves in a good light. If an employee has been counseled about work productivity, he might say, from the supposed viewpoint of his supervisor: “Joe has more tenure than me and I want to cut him down a notch, so I jump his case about productivity all the time.”

Or, if the employee has been told she can no longer tell inappropriate jokes she says, as a representation of what her supervisor may be thinking, “I’m trying to make a name for myself as a tough supervisor, so I decided to make a big deal about Julie’s remarks–even though they don’t bother anyone but me.”

A supervisor who has been told he needs to accomplish more in his team says, as he pretends to be his manager, “The reason I’m reprimanding Mark about his work is that he is a natural leader and I feel threatened by him.”

Do you think any of those comments are accurate reflections?

Try the process of reflecting the thoughts of others to better see their perspective. But, be realistic! If you are having a conflict with someone at work, talk about it to yourself, out loud, as if you were the other person and felt you were 100% correct and justified in your thoughts and actions. Don’t give yourself any breaks! You will find there is often a kernel of truth in what you say as you represent them through your words.  If you think there is some truth in it, work on those things. If you think they are completely mistaken you can consider ways to let the other person see the real you more clearly. At least you can consider ways to ensure you are demonstrating effectiveness to the point that anyone hearing the other person talk about you will not believe it!

Remember: If you are in a conflict with someone, that person will not put a positive spin on your behavior or performance–probably just the opposite. And, they probably believe themselves as they say it. Talk for them and see the situation through their eyes. You may begin to understand them better–and you may find you are not in complete disagreement!


June 1st, 2008 Posted by | Life and Work, Supervision and Management | 3 comments


  1. Tina, I think I recognize one of our conversations in this post! It has taken me a long time to be able to see a situation from someone else’s viewpoint but I think I am a better supervisor now that I do it. I have used the same technique in situations with my “Significant Other” and found it even more difficult to see OUR arguments from his viewpoint, but it has been a big help. Based on some things he has said, I believe he sometimes does that too! P.

    Comment by P.A.H. | June 2, 2008

  2. Thank you for the thought about how to apply the same concept in personal relationships! T.

    Comment by Tina | June 2, 2008

  3. This post takes reflection a step further than usual to consider how we usually try to put a good spin on everything we do and demonize others. It makes for a thought provoking moment.

    Comment by Steven Handler | June 3, 2008

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