Home > Articles

The Trouble with Work

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

The Magic of Perspective

Glasses without Frames

It sounds too easy. "Change your perspective, change your job." Could it be so simple?

When we have hated our jobs for long enough, it starts to seem impossible to fix things. Every day we see evidence why our workplace is awful; after awhile this becomes just a part of "how things are." To suggest that it would be possible to change it by merely looking at it differently sounds naïve and ridiculous!

On the other hand, what we call "reality" is defined by our perception of it. Our eyes and ears assemble information, and our brain processes it. Along the way, the "objective" information that we are processing gets entangled with our subjective selves. Our history, our biases, our preferences, and our emotions all come into play as we make our assessment of what is "real." Some information gets emphasized, some gets filtered out, and what we are left with is our own perception of reality. This version contains both the situation and the self.

However you feel about your job, there will be parts of it that grab your attention and parts that don't. The parts that grab your attention are the ones you respond to; they are the ones you use to craft your definition of "how things are" and decide how to respond. The other parts, filtered out along the way, just drop into the background of your perceptions.

A change in perspective can make all the difference. Consider "polarized" sunglasses, a favorite among fishermen because they eliminate glare from the surface of the water. Imagine standing at the edge of a fishing boat, looking down at the water and seeing nothing but reflected sunlight. Do you cast your line here or move on to a different location? The answer is pure guesswork.

Imagine donning a pair of polarized lenses. The glare disappears; you can see 30 feet into the water. Now you know what swims beneath you. Guesswork is gone, along with the stress that goes with it. Your responses are more closely matched to your situation, and your sense of uncertainty decreases. Over time, your overall sense of "how hard it is to fish" probably decreases too.

If you can find a new perspective, then you're more likely to choose a different response. If your new perspective gives you new clarity, your different response might be a better and more productive one. And each different response can produce a different outcome. If you use your new perspective enough times and create enough different outcomes, suddenly your whole experience of the situation has changed.

  • Cultural author and columnist Tamim Ansary said this about glasses:
  • Eyeglasses that corrected both nearsightedness and farsightedness [became available] around 1450...I have an affliction that is considered trivial today: I'm myopic. If I were living before eyeglasses, I would be considered blind. My job would be to sit by a road with a begging cup. Roughly 25 percent of the people in North America are nearsighted like me. I wonder how many potential writers, artists, scientists, inventors, philosophers, and the like never developed their talents because they lived before the invention of eyeglasses? 13

Each new perspective we try is a new pair of glasses. The situation doesn't change, but the way we see it does. Some elements become clearer and more pronounced while others fade into the background. Things that took up our whole field of view become less important.

As any eye doctor will tell you, there's no way to know for sure whether the new glasses will be useful without trying them on, but the right pair can change everything.

Wearing New Glasses

New perspectives give us new options, especially in difficult situations or those where the stakes are high. Like polarized lenses for the fisherman, a useful change in our own perspective will reveal hidden information; it will make us "situationally smarter!" The more we know about a situation, the better equipped we are to respond to it. We think of options that we hadn't before because we have a more complete view of what is going on.

This has positive effects on our self-confidence and our stress level. There are few things more frustrating for a fisherman than to cast all day based on guesswork and to go home empty-handed. By the same token...

If instead we understand what's going on, respond accordingly, and know when to expect the next wave of trouble to hit, things are better. We might still be tired at the end of the day, but we will be a lot less stressed.

Our own feeling of increased control and decreased stress has an important side effect: It reduces the stress levels of those around us. Studies have shown that only a few people in a large group are needed to change the dynamics and tension levels of everyone around them.14 Most of us have experienced this phenomenon in the negative direction, with "one rotten apple spoiling the whole bunch." But it goes both ways! By reducing your own stress levels, your mere presence can reduce the stress of those around you. Wouldn't it be nice to be surrounded by people who are even just a little less stressed?

Changing Perspective: An Exercise

Our first activity in changing perspective is simple but powerful. On first read, it also seems quite silly. But rest assured, it is based upon the empirical science of how the mind works.15 What seem like childish or unnecessary exercises are actually physical cues to activate specific parts of your mind. The difference between reading this exercise and doing it is the difference between wanting things to get better at work and making them get better. It sets the stage for all that you will be doing in future chapters. It can also be fun. We suggest, therefore, that you begin your experience with this book by setting aside any cynicism you might feel and trying this out as fully as you can.

You will need three sheets of blank paper to begin. Number the pages 1 through 3 by writing a large number on each that takes up the entire page. Set the three pages face up on the floor a few feet from each other so that they form a triangle.

Think of a situation in which you've had a disagreement with another person. Choose an instance you remember well. Recall who was involved and the object of the conflict.

Figure 1-2

Figure 1-2 The three sheet exercise

Now step onto the sheet labeled "1." Stand16 with both feet on the sheet, facing sheet 2. This is the first person position because you are "being yourself." The person with whom you disagree is the "second person." Imagine that he or she is standing on sheet 2 and that you are having the conflict you remember. Explain your position out loud as if you are speaking to the other person. You can also pause and make "aside" statements about what you are thinking or feeling that are not meant for the second person to hear. Keep talking until you feel that you have explained your position as fully as possible.

Then step off of sheet 1 and on to sheet 2. Turn so that you are facing sheet 1. Now you are in the second person position. Imagine that you are that other person. As you look over at sheet 1, try to picture yourself standing on it, arguing your position. See yourself from the other person's perspective! As long as you are on sheet 2, your role is to be the best "other person" you can be. Work hard to play the role of the other person as well as you can. Have the conflict again, this time as the other person. Speak as the second person and argue with the first person. What are your needs, wants, and feelings? Again, you might want to say some things within the conflict and make other "aside" comments not meant to be heard. Both are useful.

It is important to resist the temptation to "play" the other person as being stupid, confused, or misinformed—especially if that is how he or she appeared to you in the original conflict. To get value out of this exercise, you must act out the other person's role as a rational, intelligent human being, no matter how difficult this might be. Try to be the best, brightest, most thoughtful second person you can be. In doing so, you might feel as if you are giving the other person "too much credit." That is a good sign. The aim is not to prove anyone right or wrong; it is to give you practice with changed perspectives.

Then step on to sheet 3. Stand so that you are facing sheets 1 and 2 equally. In the third person position, you are an observer of the interaction, a neutral party who sees everything that is going on but doesn't care how the argument turns out. This is the "fly on the wall" position. Imagine now that you can see both yourself (on sheet 1) and the other person (on sheet 2) as the interaction happens between them. Try to view both parties as acquaintances so that you have a general interest in seeing what happens without a preference for either side's position.

Watch the conflict play out, with each side stating their positions and arguing with the other. What do you see? Picture the interaction as completely as you can. Think about voice tone, body language, posture, hand gestures. How long did it take? How heated did it get? At the end, how were things left? How did each person appear to feel as the conflict came to a close? Is there anything you can see that the two people in conflict cannot? Describe what you see aloud, as if you were the narrator of a story or the announcer at a boxing match. As you narrate, use your right forefinger to repeatedly tap the inside of your left palm at the base of your left thumb, once every few seconds. Continue narrating and tapping until you have described the situation to your satisfaction.

At this point, you will have experienced the same conflict three times from three different perspectives. Most people find that they "see" something different with each new perspective. Often participants in this exercise report that they leave with a better understanding of the real reason for the conflict and perhaps even a little more empathy for the other person's position. Take a moment to answer this question: If there were three things you learned from doing this exercise, what would they be?

About Perspective Shift

It takes a lot of effort to look at your sunglasses while you are wearing them. The same is true about shifting perspective. To adjust the "lenses" through which we view the world, we must first become aware of them.

Imagine if, in place of the detailed instructions for the three-sheet exercise, this book had simply instructed you to "think of a recent conflict and then try to see it from the other person's position and like a fly on the wall." Those instructions are technically correct, but in the absence of a clear process and steps to follow, most of us probably would have not learned nearly as much about the situation.

Why? Many of us don't have much experience with how to change perceptual positions. By requiring us to step on and off of sheets of paper and to imagine the other people in the situation, the three-sheet model provides a framework to help develop our new perspective. At the same time, it alerts our minds that a shift is coming. Like training wheels for a new bicyclist, the model provides help and support while we learn a new skill.

If you repeat the three-sheet exercise many times, eventually you will become quite adept at switching positions. At that point, your high level of expertise will replace your need for the exercise, and you will no longer need sheets of paper to switch perceptual positions. That's when "the training wheels come off."

The upcoming chapters of this book present specific perspectives to help you see new things in the same situations. Each new perspective comes with its own model, a framework to support you while you learn to see things in the "new" way. And each new perspective, when used carefully, will give you new insight into what is going on around you at work. Your new insight will lead you to new actions, and your new actions might very well change your experience of your job. At the very least, they will teach you what to look for in your next job.

Unlike the three-sheet exercise, the chapters to come will not require you to pretend you are someone else, but they will require you to see things from the "third person." The ability to mentally "step out of" your own role and into an observer role is crucial; as long as you are "stuck" in the first person, your ability to perceive things differently is severely limited. Stepping into the third person position and looking at what is happening with an objective eye is the beginning of any major perspective shift.

Author and professional athlete Arthur Ashe said that "Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is more important than the outcome." The same is true here; if you focus on the doing, the outcome follows naturally. As with any sport, you start learning by getting used to the movements. The fun and the good results follow, and they increase along the way.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020