The good old change of perspective

Guest contribution by | 05.04.2021

We need more of the good old change of perspective

Mediation and systemic approaches have been familiar with it for a long time, and in workshops it often comes under the heading “climbing into the other person’s shoes”: the good old change of perspective. It plays an important role in change in order to be able to let go of existing, often hardened positions. Behind this is the attitude of systemic thinking that there is no “wrong” or “right” and that truth is something very subjective, something we construct ourselves through our individual filtering1.

Changes take time, and they are accompanied by many emotions. In the beginning there is often ignorance of the need for change. Depending on the course of events, a whole conglomerate of emotions and the actions derived from them develop over time – from frustration and abandonment to anger and resistance2. It becomes unpleasant, even difficult, when mistakes are not interpreted as (shared) learning potential but as culpable failure, and when the different positions harden. This often leads to rigidity instead of the stability actually desired by those involved3.

Change of perspective as a game changer

This is when the change of perspective comes into play. It is exhausting to hold on to one’s own position and perspective as the only correct one once one steps into the shoes of the other. In mediation and systemic counselling/therapy there are a variety of methods for changing perspective, whole books have been written on e.g. circular questioning, which is one such method4. Most methods are based on the idea that irritation in the brain leads to more openness, neurobiological ideas about coherence in the brain make this seem plausible. Irritation occurs in rigid positions especially when one notices that one’s own perspective may not be the only “logical” one and thus contradictions arise in the brain5.

From our experience of working with change and conflict, we know that changes in perspective do not necessarily come about on their own. It often needs the “neutral” outsider to moderate the process: The mediator, the systemic counsellor, the systemic family therapist, the conciliator, the workshop facilitator, etc. In classical systemic work, it is therefore a professional requirement that the counsellor is not part of the system (and thus the affected party).

Systemic blockages

If you have followed these general and, I am sure, all too familiar explanations up to this point, you may also have had one or two ideas about what makes our current situation so difficult and almost blocks it. I will now put my hypotheses into the open, or rather into the text, and look forward to a lively discussion.

  • My assertion is that we are in a difficult process of change; the pandemic is turning our system and life model upside down.
  • My observations from the media and my private environment are that positions are becoming increasingly hardened, that blaming instead of learning is increasingly dominating the landscape. This blocks action by all those involved.
  • Solutions are possible – as in systemic counselling or mediation – if we recognise each other’s perspectives, are willing to let go and can thus shape the new together. We need more changes of perspective.
  • In this situation, we lack “the systemic observer” who could shape this process – neither here on earth do any deities intervene in a supportive way, nor do extraterrestrials come by, everyone else is affected6.
  • Our democratic system works like a club in terms of leadership. The members elect the leadership. Change processes in associations are therefore subject to a particularly challenging dynamic because there is no leadership that is really independent of the implementation of the expectations of the various interest groups. From my own experience as a consultant, I know how difficult it is to ensure a clear direction in such structures.
  • In concrete terms, this manifests itself in a perspective phenomenon: each of us has our own perspective, which is primarily fed by our individual needs and expectations. This own perspective is increasingly becoming the yardstick of things and is ossifying.

The perspective of most politicians is oriented towards the electorate. Due to the diversity and ambivalence, this leads to constant changes in procedural ideas that are difficult to comprehend from the outside, a kind of rotation in perspectives with all their contradictions and thus to a blockade in progress. In crises at the latest, this becomes a structural problem.

Ideas for solutions for necessary changes of perspective

But how, under these conditions and with the desire to continue to preserve our democratic system, could the necessary changes of perspective nevertheless succeed? I offer some hypotheses on this as well:

  • Responsibility for our own change of perspective lies with each of us in the sense of self-efficacy.
  • The media can support us in this by offering more information instead of evaluation, or at least by making a clearer distinction.
  • Every individual can live a culture of mistakes. A first step is the conscious, avoidant handling of guilt. And listening to the learning offered by those who made the alleged mistake.
  • Regular self-reflection, slowing down and dealing with our current emotional world are individually important. Depending on the type, one can take time here regularly or simply reflect on occasions. Occasions can be, for example, my anger or frustration, the fact that I start to play the blame game or even develop a “I don’t care about the pandemic” attitude.
  • Always put your own expectations to the test. Are they realistic or rather hopeful wishes? And what good reasons might there be for completely contradictory expectations?
  • Methodological ideas such as collegial counselling or individual supervision are supportive tools that each of us can actively draw on. They are particularly helpful when we find ourselves in a situation where our own perspective narrows – something that is simply deeply human and normal.
  • In small group discussions, each of us can take on the role of a neutral observer – for a certain time, of course. In this way we support each other in discovering new perspectives.

From therapy we know the phenomenon that people struggle with recurring and even increasing difficulties as long as they do not seriously address the underlying problem or the necessary development and come into solution orientation. My final hypothesis is that this is exactly what we are experiencing socially right now, in which we do not each tackle the change of perspective on our own and thus generate a solution together, but expect others to serve this diversity and contradictoriness and still move forward. This is a classic dilemma in a federal-democratic structure like ours.

And since there are no neutral or impartial observers for the system to help us by moderating the solution process, we need self-organisation. And that means that the changes of perspective we need for togetherness and crisis management have to be the responsibility of each of us and have to be initiated within ourselves.



[1] more on constructivism
2] more on processes of change
[3] some explanatory ideas on rigidity
[4] another method to promote changes of perspective
[5] Since the brain is an energy-saving system, it strives for apparent non-contradiction because that is simply less stressful.
[6] We have no one who is not affected by the pandemic and is therefore outside the system. Perhaps this is why even experienced counsellors are confronted with their own positions, something that I perceive, by the way, as an important experience for me in relation to my own work with clients and customers.

Astrid Kuhlmey has published other articles on the t2informatik Blog, including

t2informatik Blog: What we can learn from starship Enterprise

What we can learn from starship Enterprise

t2informatik Blog: PMO and Uncertainty

PMO and Uncertainty

t2informatik Blog: Letting go is the new way of planning

Letting go is the new way of planning

Astrid Kuhlmey
Astrid Kuhlmey

Computer scientist Astrid Kuhlmey has more than 30 years of experience in project and line management in pharmaceutical IT. She has been working as a systemic consultant for 7 years and advises companies and individuals in necessary change processes. Sustainability as well as social and economic change and development are close to her heart. Together with a colleague, she has developed an approach that promotes competencies to act and decide in situations of uncertainty and complexity.