What a challenging word to spell, let alone pronounce. I first became aware of my Ethnocentric tendencies in first year University Planning School. Professor George Rich, the grand poobah at Waterloo Planning loved his annual lecture on the Perils of Ethnocentrism…”the placing of your values upon someone else’s.”
Professor Rich would hammer the young turks of the new Planning School to be free of pre-conditions, to never assume that your experience was smarter, superior, or frankly less than, someone else’s. A serious blow to the over confident bunch from Planning ‘72…our purpose was to judge a municipal issue or a development case on the circumstances and facts presented by the parties effected…our personal view, bias or prejudices did not matter…in fact they must be subjugated to the broader public-private benefits and liabilities of the project. I sometimes wonder if this important and fundamental cornerstone of todays dispute resolution is still taught in planning school today. It sometimes seems that our personal values and bias prejudice the boundaries of discussion before they start…and too often get in the way of a balanced and fair judgement.
The same approach can be taken in our daily lives, both personal and professional. Sometimes referred to as the dilemma of ‘moral equivalence’. Do I automatically assume that my values are shared by someone else when in fact the opposite may be true. Just ask yourself, do Israel and Palestine share the same understanding or interpretation of thousands of years of history, living together…on the surface obviously not but surprisingly there may be more commonality of purpose than is first evident. Each has their own preconditioned, ethnocentric moral compass…and it’s extremely difficult to get it to point in the same direction. One key to resolution is to overcome the fear of the unknown by placing yourself in the other’s position. We naturally fear what we don’t understand…particularly if the unknown consequence of our actions is life threatening. Both sides of an issue must clearly attempt to be informed, educated, and knowledgeable about the others position…know more about your opponent than you know about yourself!
Education leads to Knowledge…Knowledge leads to Power…and Understanding leads to Resolution. Notwithstanding that the simplest of issues can be very complicated…if I start by NOT placing my values and prejudices upon yours but put myself in your position…the start of resolution is possible.
The other day our team was discussing a new project launch and trying to set or actually reset pricing in a very challenging market. A presentation was to be made to the Builder – Client in an hour and the facts were pointing to a very serious discount…a discount that would never be accepted…was there another way to reach resolution? Then someone said “ let’s think like an owner “…if we put ourselves in the principle’s shoes…could we make them fit? This approach created a fresh perspective, one that led to a better understanding and eventually to a mutually satisfactory resolution. In the end it turned out that, for the consumer, it wasn’t all about price and for the builder, it was more about adapting product design, innovation, and specification…a balance was found.
So recognize that all of us are subject to our own self imposed ethnocentricities…manage it carefully and turn it into your advantage by looking for and understanding the other side of the story first…
Happy Canada Day!!!