No Dog in the Hunt: The Benefits of Objectivity

With Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVIII, I had the experience of watching a game that I enjoy but without the emotional attachment to an outcome. My favorite team was not playing so I didn’t feel the stress and pressure, the internal emotional pull, for a particular team to win. I cheered when a good play happened and listened when a questionable call was reviewed, calmly considering my own opinion of which way it should have gone.  I could sit in the place of objectivity and not be swept by strong emotions in either direction. What a concept!

In past years, I’d spend the three hours during the game agonizing over every play. At all points, my emotional state was tied to how well my team was doing. I experienced a roller coaster of elation and frustration, testing my heart strings. And the positive or negative effects (depending on each game) lingered for a while afterwards.

In February of 2012, I had the opportunity to be in Lucas Oil Stadium during my team’s last Super Bowl championship game. The game was close throughout (coming down to the last seconds) and I ended up very disappointed in the loss, especially given how close it had been and the potential was there for a win. I will admit, though, that the excitement of being in the action this time (rather than watching on T.V.) helped quell the level of disappointment. However, I took another plunge on the emotional roller coaster when I was walking out as I heard a young boy (maybe 10 years old) sobbing uncontrollably with his parents. It broke my heart as I remembered all of those times I so wanted victory and I didn’t get it.

In my experience, there are times when we find ourselves in that objective seat and also when we are an active participant (for example, fan or player). And I would suggest that in all situations, it is extremely beneficial to look from both objective and subjective perspectives.

Why would we want to do so and how do we? For me, it is like ensuring I am a well-rounded student (one who demonstrates strengths in a variety of areas) as I apply to college. This is often a recommended strategy so we can have a more favorable chance of being perceived as valuable during the selection process. If we approach each situation “well-rounded” as both a witness and as a contributor, we improve our chance to garner better outcomes for ourselves. When we become more objective we make our emotions less intense and prevent conversation derailment or conflict escalation. When we focus on being more subjective, we ensure we speak our mind and share what is important to us.

Let’s look at some examples. On any given day at work, I am on the phone with a client, potential client, a channel partner, or a facilitator. Most often I am a participant, sharing my ideas, actively advocating my point of view, or listening to their ideas and questions to understand them. When I recognize that I am in an important exchange with someone, and an enhanced relationship is desirable, I realize I can also add value and a more positive result when I also look objectively, as if from outside the relationship, at the dialogue. I can consider from a higher level vantage point what the overall objectives are for this conversation and the bigger picture of what we are trying to accomplish. I may notice something about my contribution or behavior from my third party perspective and course correct if it is heading down a path that could derail us. I can use the witness stance to come from a calm place or to point out my observations, especially if there is a little heat or tension in the conversation.

Acting as both a spectator and player is not only valuable when you are in dialogue with someone else. It can also be useful when you find yourself in your own thoughts and feelings about a situation. For example, when you review a recent conversation or are pondering how to approach an upcoming one. As you look at your interaction (or potential interaction) you can also take a step back and consider what an outsider would think and reflect on what you observe.

So if you set an intention for taking a look periodically from both perspectives when you are conversing or reflecting on an interaction, what behaviors or actions do you take?  Here are some of the ways I have shifted into a different perspective, either to spectator or to player:

  • I become aware and notice that I am very focused on the substance of the discussion and not necessarily on the process of the conversation
  • I pretend I am a different party in the situation and consider how they might view things
  • I pause, steady my breathing and slow down my speaking to give a chance for my thoughts and feelings to catch up to my actions
  • I comment on my observations of what I see or imagine is happening rather than making another substantive point
  • I ask questions to check in on what others may notice
  • I specify what I want
  • I choose my words carefully to mean what I want to say

While this may feel like double the effort to maintain multiple perspectives, the ROI is worth the healthy relationship you maintain and the positive outcome you achieve.  Let us know when you have stepped into the two perspectives and what you noticed about the act and the results.

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