• Dr. Mike Patterson

Filters Affect What You See

Three Questions to Avoid Limiting Your Perspective





I recently received a fantastic pair of sunglasses as a gift. According to Oakley, the lenses use Prizm™ technology that enhance contrast and colors when outdoors. Since I’ll primarily wear these glasses on the golf course, this means I’ll more easily spot my ball in the bushes or deep rough where I spend so much time. In other words, my gift will be a useful tool that filters out the harsh sunlight and allows me to focus on what’s important.


Unfortunately, my new sunglasses won’t help me see better at night or if I wear them indoors. I may look rock star cool, but I could run into things and potentially hurt myself or others. If I choose to wear my glasses in these low-light conditions, I will need to take special care to avoid the negative consequences of not seeing the things that could get me into trouble.


My sunglasses are an example of a filter. In this case, a filter that keeps out the harsh glare of bright sunlight so I can more easily track my errant shots, as well as a filter that creates blind spots that can cause me to trip and fall. We all have filters that operate in similar ways with the potential for good or bad consequences.


The challenge for each of us is understanding our own filters, as well as the filters of others, so we can leverage what’s good and useful, and prevent what’s harmful and inhibiting. As a leader, working to become more conscious of filters and reduce their harmful impact can be an important aspect of your professional and personal development.


The good news is that you can begin right away. Since some filters are hard wired in your personality, you would benefit from completing a variety of valid and reliable psychometrics that help you understand different aspects of your personality that may be influencing what you see and do. My favorite is the SDI 2.0 because it provides four distinct perspectives (motives, conflict, strengths and overdone strengths) in one, easy-to-understand assessment. It also emphasizes how you operate in relationship to others, so the results are more practical than the other assessments in the market.


In addition to using good learning tools to better understand your filters, here are three questions you can ask to reveal how filters are impacting you:


Do others see it differently?


On almost every issue, the answer is yes. The problem for most of us is that we only associate with people who see it our way. If you have any doubt about this, scroll through a few cable news channels to hear different points of view about the political issues of the day. In a matter of minutes, you’ll be confronted with vastly dissimilar takes on the same event and you’ll probably find yourself falling into one camp or another rather easily—and that’s where you tend to stay.

These same tribal differences in perspective can exist in organizations as well, but it’s often more subtle and nuanced. Some people are vocal and verbose advocates for a particular tactic, while others—who are equally thoughtful and informed—choose to stay quiet in the Zoom meeting. This means it might take some work to ferret out these different perspectives, but it’s worth the effort. One thing is certain: there is always risk in assuming everyone sees it the same way, so make space for people to present alternative perspectives.


Have I given other explanations or options fair consideration?


It’s one thing to do a quick brainstorming activity where everyone gets to throw out ideas and have them written on a whiteboard or flipchart, but are you giving these other options serious consideration or just going through the motions before you go with your original idea?


You may need to employ a more diligent vetting process to make sure you’re giving other options fair consideration. Depending on your timeframe and sense of urgency, appoint others to study potentially viable options before making the final decision. Hal Gregersen of MIT Leadership Center suggests that asking the good questions is the best use of your brainstorming time anyway.


Am I curious?


The reality is that our instincts have probably served us pretty well over time. Most people don’t rise to levels of significant responsibility—or read articles like this for that matter—if they have a track record of making horrible decisions. It’s also true that we need to check our instincts by staying curious. Curiosity prevents us from settling for what we have and invites us to think about what’s possible. It forces us to ask both why? and why not?


Research has established a business case for curiosity as well. Harvard Business School professor, Francesca Gino, offers an example. She recruited 200 employees from a variety of organizations. About half received a text twice each week that asked what they were curious about and encouraged them to ask more why questions as they approach their work. The other group (the control group) was asked by text what they were going to focus on or accomplish that day. At the end of just 4 weeks, the group that was encouraged to be curious demonstrated more innovative behaviors at work and offered more creative and constructive solutions to pressing problems.


Remember, filters can be both good and bad. Appreciate how your filters help you focus on your priorities but beware that those same filters can create dangerous blind spots. The challenge is that we become so comfortable wearing our glasses that we forget we have them on. In the coming week, why not make a special effort to see something differently?


Dr. Mike Patterson is an author, speaker, and master facilitator who helps leaders and teams communicate, collaborate, and manage conflict more effectively. He is the co-author of the highly acclaimed book, Have a Nice Conflict: How to Find Success and Satisfaction in the Most Unlikely Places, and he teaches in the doctoral programs at Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology and California Baptist University.


© 2021 Michael L. Patterson, Ed.D.