In this second post from Tim Muehlhoff’s message to the leadership track, I want to highlight a couple of the concepts Tim emphasized regarding listening and bridging for understanding, especially with differences or conflict is at work.
He stressed the need for “perspective-taking” which means seeing the world from another point of view. We can’t empathize or compromise unless we know some of the other person or person’s history and context. This involves life experiences, past hurt and pain, as well as who the influential people are in their life. When I think about it, this is a fundamental task for all leaders who work with people. The campus ministry’s leadership model (the 4-R Leadership Model I studied at Bethel) identifies this capacity as intellectual flexibility and it is central to the relationships of a leader.
One of the more fascinating parts of Tim’s talk was when he made the connection from perspective-taking to “cognitive complexity theory”. This theory essentially involves the complexity of one’s view of the world and of other people. The less cognitive complexity one has translates to greater rigidity in relationships and being able to connect with people on their teams. The more cognitive complexity one possesses, the greater capacity they have for authentic listening and empathy and understanding.
The result of perspective taking is empathy, even for those we have been wounded by. Tim quoted some words from Longfellow, “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each person’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”
How deep and complex is our view of others and the world? The world likes to label things and put things into categories. My readings of Jesus’ ministry blow me away on how he was ability to communicate so effectively with people of all backgrounds: Pharisees, Romans, Widows, Saducees, Samaritans, Zealots, and children. He was able to see into their worlds, which led to compassion, which led to his ability to communicate effectively.
What I am taking away from this is that redemptive action first starts with seeing. And I’m afraid that many believers and ministers fail to see, relying instead on their own native (& maybe naive) worldview.