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Two Barriers to Seeing Someone Else’s Perspective

Two Barriers to Seeing Someone Else’s Perspective

By Donna Dunning

Donna DunningI often find myself wondering why people find it difficult to listen to and acknowledge others’ points of view. I’m sure there are several reasons for this and that the reasons differ by situation and context. Self-absorption and differences of opinion can be two major barriers to this process.


Sometimes people just don’t seem to be interested in listening to or considering others in general. You may have met these people. They are always talking about their own needs and situations and rarely asking about others. When they do ask about you, they seem to not be listening to what you have to say.

I’m not sure if self-absorption is a natural state. Perhaps some people are just naturally more interested in hearing the stories and situations of others or maybe those who listen have been socialized to do so. I certainly remember being taught to share the air space and to turn the conversation away from myself. Maybe this is something women are socialized to do more than men?

Perhaps personality type preferences have some influence here. Maybe those who prefer Feeling seek out information about other people’s situations and stories. Perhaps those who prefer Introversion are more comfortable turning a conversation toward someone else.


I think it is harder to hear a perspective when you don’t agree with it. Many people, in this situation, want to jump in and express an alternative view. Rather than listening to understand, the tendency is to dismiss or argue with the alternative view. Perhaps people think acknowledging a perspective is the same as agreeing with it.

In counseling and coaching courses, people are taught how to acknowledge people’s opinions without agreeing with them, listening without judging. This empathic skill may not come naturally or easily.

Again, personality type preferences may influence our comfort in acknowledging others. For people who prefer Feeling, it may be especially difficult to acknowledge a perspective that is in conflict with their personal (or sometimes with societal) beliefs and values. For people who prefer Thinking, the more challenging perspectives to acknowledge are likely the ones that seem illogical or based on emotion rather than reason.

What have you observed about this topic? Do you sense people are hearing and acknowledging your views? Do you acknowledge their views? What gets in the way?


For more thoughts on communicating well, read Introduction to Type and Communication.

This entry was posted on Monday, May 11th, 2015 at 10:25 am and is filed under Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “Two Barriers to Seeing Someone Else’s Perspective”

  1. Amy says:

    I think that self-absorption can be heavily influenced by mental health, too. Depression can make it hard to pull away from one’s own stuff and be there for others whereas anxiety (especially social anxiety) can be mistaken for discomfort or distractibility and make it hard for the person to convey the cues normally associated with careful listening. A person might genuinely care about what’s going on with the other person, but if they’re panicking about eye contact or worrying that the other person is scrutinizing them so carefully that the wrong word will result in a negative evaluation, it’s hard to be fully present.

    I think when emotionally healthy, feeling types can share feelings and empathize in equal measure and thinking types may be disengaged emotionally at times but also have very clear-cut boundaries. The thinking type is a good person to go to when you want someone to help you think of the consequences or what sort of concrete action you can take to fix a problem in your life. The feeling type is a good person to go to when you need emotional support and validation. When suffering from mental health issues, though, the best expression of one’s type gets muddied and that’s when we see stuff like self-absorption,defensiveness, etc.

  2. Thanks for this thoughtful article. Thanks also to Amy for highlighting the often overlooked mental health perspective. I find that illness, in general, is a huge barrier to empathy. Our super-busy culture doesn’t help, either.

  3. Dick says:

    I agree with almost all of this, exepct:: because every job in the whole world is easier than taking care of kids . This cannot be true, for obvious reasons, and its disingenuous to say it.Thanks for exposing me to Myers Briggs, BTW. It has really changed my understanding of myself, and the choices I have made. I would encourage people who are married, or considering marriage, to take the test and start thinking about the implications of personaliy type on their relationship.

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