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Stuck in a rut? Change your perspective

May 1st, 2014

by Kenneth H. Cohn

Last weekend, I attended the Newburyport Literary Festival. Best-selling novelist Andre Dubus III offered the following advice to a budding author who asked how to overcome writer's block:

"Change your point of view"--a technique authors use to filter the events through another character. It seems much easier in fiction than in real life. We hold onto our perspectives like ideals, self-portraits that separate us from others, as if letting go of them would strip us of our identities.

However, biologists tell us that being able to reframe, to change our perspective, is what makes us human. In "Collaborative Listening," I wrote that active listening differs from hearing, which is passive. Of the five components, the last (empathy) seems the most underutilized:


  • Concentrate on the speaker, maintaining comfortable eye contact
  • Listen with one's eyes as well as ears to be mindful of body language
  • Open one's stance to convey receptivity
  • Suspend judgment to maintain objectivity
  • Empathize--try to put oneself in the speaker's frame of reference, using summary questions, such as, "Do I understand you to say ... ?"

Empathy is not sympathy. It brings people together and helps them make sense of issues beyond their control. I wrote in "Journey to Excellence" that sense-making leads people to go beyond narrow silos to focus on processes that they need to perform well to achieve desired outcomes.

One technique to be flexible is to start from a position of inquiry rather than advocacy, to demonstrate curiosity rather than stubborn adherence to one point of view. Another way is to depersonalize our differences, using the Hegelian dialectic of thesis-antithesis-synthesis, to celebrate the improved solution that results when we allow others to point out and help us correct weaknesses in our approach.

In this decade of healthcare transformation, conflict is inevitable. I hope that insights from authors like Dubus help us become more aware of our assumptions and more willing to reflect and reframe.

I welcome your insights. Please share with our readers ways that reframing perspective has allowed you to add value to your workplace.

Ken is a general surgeon/MBA and CEO of, who works with organizations to engage disgruntled doctors to improve clinical and financial performance.


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