Perspective Taking for Problem Solving

It’s hard to understand how a 5 year old can feel stressed or why a teen can be so upset about the breakup of a month long relationship. Sometimes we wonder why it’s so hard for a teacher to understand that your child is trying to start his work, but he needs a few seconds to think before he starts and that encouragement to “get started” actually slows down the process. Or teachers wonder how parents expect them to know exactly what/when/where a student will feel anxious and that they are actually trying to help students, but feel they can’t win sometimes.

It’s hard to understand the other side, but it is an essential step in problem solving, communication, and maintaining a cooperative and collaborative relationship. Try these steps for perspective taking and see if it leads to more positive interactions and resolutions:


  • Don’t just hear what is being said, listen and think about what is being said without judgment. Avoid thinking about your response or worse, your “comeback.”
  • Try repeating back what was communicated. “You don’t think it’s fair that I take your iPod at night. You want me to trust you with it at night because all of your friends are allowed to have theirs in their rooms at night.”


  • Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Imagine what they’re experiencing, not from your eyes, but from their own eyes.
  • Try to remember an experience where you felt similarly to the other person. As a parent, that might mean recalling a breakup from your teenage years and how you felt when you were broken up with not looking back at it as an adult when you know it actually ended up being a minor event in your life.


  • Think about what other factors could be contributing to the other person’s experience. Have they had a bad day? Are they feeling tired? Are they under competing pressures, like a teacher who wants to help a student get their work done so they understand and learn the material, but is being told that the student needs breaks during the school day and the student doesn’t get the work done at home?
  • Try to understand what the other person’s concern or problem is. Avoid debating about whether or not you think it is a valid concern. It is valid to the other person.


  • Share your concern respectfully without using accusatory or absolute language. Avoid using words like “always” and “never.”
  • Keep the focus on your concern, problem, or feeling, not on what the other person is or is not doing.
    Maintain a respectful (or neutral) tone of voice and volume as opposed to an angry, sarcastic, or exasperated tone.

Taking the other person’s perspective makes it easier to forge ahead together, keeping the focus on a resolution or positive interaction, rather than on determining “who’s right” and “who’s wrong.”

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