Why is it hard to understand and accept others’ opinions, views, and ideas about life? In this Verywell Mind article, Mindpath Health’s Julian Lagoy, MD, gives answers and provides tips on how we see the world differently.
New research by UCLA Psychology Professor Matthew Lieberman, PhD, sheds light on an explanation by pointing to a part of the brain he calls the “gestalt cortex,” which sits behind the ear and between the areas of the brain that process vision, sound, and touch.
What does the research say?
In his research, which was based on an analysis of more than 400 studies, Lieberman explains that the gestalt cortex helps people make sense of information that is ambiguous or incomplete, as well as dismiss alternative interpretations.
Lieberman also discusses “naïve realism,” which is the notion that people think their interpretation of people and events is accurate or true over other’s interpretation. This can lead to beliefs that other people got it wrong.
Lieberman claims naïve realism may be the biggest driver of conflict and distrust between people.
Natalie Christine Dattilo, PhD, says most situations, especially social situations, are filled with incomplete or unclear information (i.e., what another person might be thinking or feeling). She says people fill in the gaps with their own interpretations.
“This is especially relevant and problematic for individuals prone to anxiety or depression, because the tendency would be to fill those gaps with negative, overly personal, catastrophic, or worrisome thoughts and conclusions.”
How to accept others’ perspectives
Understanding areas of the brain that contribute to how we see the world is fascinating, yet finding ways to better accept others’ perspectives may help you navigate social interactions day-to-day.
Know you’re wired to fill in gaps with biases
Dattilo says people are more likely to experience a “socially threatening” situation, especially in a heightened state of stress and discord.
Realize it’s okay to change your mind
If you’ve held a fairly firm view on a topic and publicly shared it, it can be difficult to express an alternative or opposing view without fear of being seen as “wishy-washy” or worse.
Acknowledge others may be right
While it’s hard to think you’re wrong, Julian Lagoy, MD, a psychiatrist at Mindpath Health, suggests being open to the fact that in some instances, others’ opinions might be better or closer to the truth than your own.
“We need to always be willing to listen and have some understanding of other people’s perspectives, even if we think they are incorrect,” he says.
Learn both sides of the argument
Learning both sides of an argument well, especially the side you disagree with, is one way to gain perspective, says Lagoy.
Enhance your listening skills
Listening during times when difficult topics are being discussed involves regulating your emotions, and being non-defensive and compassionate, explains Dattilo.
True listening is an active process of asking questions for clarification or to express interest, being curious, trying to learn something new, or trying to understand someone else’s perspective or reasoning.
Chloe Carmichael, PhD, LPC, says to try to ask the person a few questions in order to demonstrate curiosity and willingness to listen and learn about their viewpoint. Then repeat back what they said so they know you are trying to understand them.
Focus on just the facts
“Just the facts” is a technique therapists use in therapy to help clients minimize putting a “spin” on situations, especially in the face of incomplete or ambiguous information.
To practice it for a given situation that is upsetting, Dattilo suggests writing down the details and what you believe to be the cause of your distress. Then, cross out each detail that contains an opinion, either negative or positive.
“This could also include statements that place blame on another person or yourself, or ‘exaggerated’ terms like ‘always,’ ‘never,’ ‘everything,’ or ‘everyone,’” Dattilo says.
Think of things you have in common
If you find yourself angry about someone’s point of view or getting over-focused on your differences, Carmichael says to take a deep breath and think about a few things you really like about the person and any bonding features you share.
Read the full Verywell Mind article with sources.
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