In Roman mythology, the god Janus, who gives us the name for January, was the god of beginnings and endings and is famously depicted as having two faces, facing opposite directions. One face allegedly looks backwards to the old year whilst the other looks forward to future. Being able to look in two directions at once would undoubtedly be a fantastic talent. If we could see the future, how wise we would be! Perhaps we could make money on the stock exchange, win the lottery, avoid making all sorts of bad decisions. However seeing the future would only be a benefit if we had the power to act on our foreknowledge.
However there is another sense in which looking in two directions might have advantages. Being able to see a situation from range of perspectives is incredibly useful. Two sides to every story, says the saying and it is so true. Each of us sees a situation from our own perspective and interprets that situation with through our own experience.
Take this example of differing perceptions. I was at an aqua aerobics class when one of the other participants starting coughing. She made her way to the pool side and climbed out. Just a touch concerned, I followed her into the changing rooms, where she said – through her coughing fit – ‘slap my back, slap my back’ so I obliged. After a few minutes she caught her breadth and red faced and a little shocked she was led away by the manager whilst I rejoined the class.
I thought nothing more about it, but at the next class I was presented with a fantastic gift bag of beautiful ‘smellies’ by the lady I’d helped. Well she said ‘you did save my life!’ One incident and two very perceptions; I thought I’d done a good turn, she won’t forget a stranger who rescued her in a scarey moment.
There is a native American saying which goes, ‘never judge a man until you have walked a mile in their moccasins’. Often in challenging situations people don’t always consider how the other person is feeling or why they are behaving in the way they are. They don’t walk in the other person’s shoes. And the more stressed a person is, the more they become entrenched in their own perspective.
A key coaching tool is to ask the coachee to look at a situation from different perspectives or ‘four square’. What is their perspective? What is the other person’s perspective? then I ask them to imagine an impartial observer (I often ask them to be a fly on the ceiling)and what that observer might see and be able to tell you about a situation. The fourth perspective is to ask what would be the best resolution for everyone in the situation, the perspective of the ‘wise mind’. By looking at from a range of perspectives, forwards/backwards/under or over; we can gain new wisdom and insights.
My story of the lady at the aqua class shows just how different two interpretations of the same incident can be. So in January, remember the god who looks both ways, take a few seconds to examine a situation from a range of different angles and see things from someone else’s perspctive.