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Tuesday Insight: A Lesson from Dunkirk (Probably not the one you're expecting.)

Of all the articles written about the new blockbuster Dunkirk, I found this article in the Guardian particularly interesting. It shows how the same situation can look very different when your perspective is changed.

In Britain, the mass evacuation of allied forces from Dunkirk is generally remembered as an incredible success; a time of great unity of purpose, when the people of Britain took boats of all shapes and sizes and swarmed across the channel to rescue our forces against all odds. Perhaps remarkably, our defeat in France is remembered not as a defeat, but as a great victory that enabled us to regroup and fight another day – a turning point in the war, perhaps as significant as the Battle of Britain or the Normandy landings. 

The view from France, it transpires, has been very different, where the evacuation is more likely to be remembered as a low-point in the Second World War and a disastrous moment in France’s history.

The article reminded me that two people looking at exactly the same situation from a different perspective can each make a judgement about it that is the polar opposite of the other.

It can be difficult to even begin to understand someone else’s perspective when their view is completely at odds with our own, but, it’s important to try. If we don’t, we create silos, and we make negotiation with people who don’t share our map of the world increasingly difficult. At a time when parts of the world feel quite divided, this is an important point.

Successful negotiators know that success doesn’t come from sitting on one side of an ever-higher, stronger fence and flinging mud over it at the neighbours. And neither is it about being rigid and unmoving; adopting a position and firmly sticking to it. 

The strongest, most successful negotiators are those who are adept at working to understand other people’s perspectives and concerns, and can build respectful relationships with those they disagree with. Most importantly, they can put personality differences to one side and focus instead on treating differences as shared problems to be resolved collaboratively.

The only way to begin to understand events like the election of Donald Trump by a sizeable proportion of US citizens, or the deep divisions here in the UK over Brexit, is to attempt to understand the perspective of those on the other side of the fence. To achieve this, it’s necessary to not just look over the fence, but to walk around it and attempt to see the world from the other side. This does not mean, or imply, agreeing with the other perspective – but understanding it is usually the first step in finding a solution that the majority can own. 

The same rules apply at work too. Effective teamwork, negotiations and collaboration all necessitate an ability to see situations from other people’s perspectives, and to work co-operatively with others to resolve shared problems. Only when we do this, can we hope to manage and avoid conflict, avoid a silo mentality and build long and successful relationships with our teams, our suppliers and our customers.

There are some fantastic exercises in Trainers’ Library that help to highlight these important learning points, and here are a few:


Longer Games and Exercises:
Island of Opportunity (A personal favourite.)
As always, add your comments below - I love getting your feedback, whatever it is. Until next time... :-)

August 1 2017Rod Webb

Rod Webb

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