Unique Mental Models Determine Perspective

Native Americans have a useful saying, “You can’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.”  Similarly, we can’t communicate effectively until we consider the world from another person’s point of view.  Our perceptions are conditioned by our particular way of seeing things.  Other people can have different and equally valuable perceptions derived from different and equally valid ways of seeing things.  Our mental models are our own particular set of deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, beliefs, and values.  They allow us to make sense of the world and operate effectively in it.

Here is an example of what I am mean.  A comptroller can look at a financial statement and see a stable, successful business.  A marketing VP looks at the same statement and sees a stagnant company.  A board member believes the financials prove that the CEO is failing.  One investor sells her shares, another buys.  The financial statements are the same, but each person interprets them and reacts to them differently.

You could paint a similar picture between business development, design, preconstruction, and construction.  When a new opportunity comes along, sales sees an opportunity, construction sees a schedule nightmare.  Each sees a building from a different perspective.  What shows up for design as an esthetic thing shows up for preconstruction as a financial thing and for construction a mechanical thing.  Our reactions are steeped in our experience.

We use certain filters to organize and make sense of our experience.  Our biology, linguistic, cultural and personal experiences are all filters.  We usually don’t recognize our mental models; they are transparent and invisible to us.  We see the world through them, but we don’t see them.  Sort of like wearing colored glasses.

When we come up against differing perspectives or mental models, we have some choices to make.  You could just push your view in a “my way or the highway” style insisting you are right.  Instead, to be effective, you could try the following:

  • Work to understand another persons’ perspective.
  • Accept that feelings are valid.
  • Be open to the possibility of changing your mind which is a sign of openness and strength.
  • Get to know someone and what they care about.  This is essential in understanding them.

When we work this way together, we create a working style of respect and responsibility.  A high level of cooperation exists.  When we surface mental models, we create new possibilities we would not have otherwise been able to see.








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