One of the greatest limitations we face as human beings is that we look at the world from our own subjective perspective—especially in situations that directly involve us. Anytime there's something personal at stake, you've got a built-in bias, right? But it doesn't have to be so one-sided. If you can develop the ability to really see through another person's eyes, you'll be tapping into an incredibly powerful tool for managing your life. And it's a skill you can cultivate—just like flipping a pancake.
A long time ago, I had a job training salespeople. There was a refrain we often repeated: "If I'm going to sell Bill what Bill buys, I'd better see things through Bill's eyes." You don't have to work in sales to benefit from that mind-set. In fact, I attribute much of my success to my ability to ferret out how a situation could look to others.
You might assume that the way to come out on top is to focus relentlessly on your own agenda, desires and needs—but that's what narcissists do, and narcissists are not effective players in the game of life. Self-obsession will take you only so far. How can you influence other people if you can't connect with them in a meaningful way? You glean tremendous insight when you understand someone else's currency, feelings and circumstances. That's why you've always got to work to flip that pancake so you can see the other side. Notice I said "work": You have to make a conscious effort to do it.
When I'm negotiating, I don't think of it just as a matter of trying to get what I want. My priority is to give the other person as much of what he wants as possible—which I can only do once I uncover what makes him tick, what he believes, what he fears and what he values. Otherwise, nothing I say would resonate.
Here's a real-world example. Let's say you like the occasional night out with your friends, and often things go a little late. And every single time, your husband gives you grief about it. You don't want him to be upset, but you also don't want to feel like a teenager with a curfew. What's the best way to break the stalemate? By stepping back and trying to understand his point of view. Does he really care where the hands on the clock are when he hears the front door open? Or does he just want to know that you're safe and that you respect him enough to tell him when you'll be home? Bingo. A savvy negotiator would say, "Honey, I know you love me and that you worry about me. So I promise that if I'm ever going to be out past midnight, I'll be sure to call."
I get to see both sides of the pancake every day on my show. Parents tell me their son is wildly out of control and list 20 examples that leave me thinking he's headed straight for juvie. Then the boy tells me what he endures day after day from his abusive, histrionic, demeaning mom and dad. No wonder he trashed the house and ran away! If I had heard only one side of the story, I would have made a big mistake the second I opened my mouth.
When you know where the other person is coming from, that knowledge is power. Without it, you'll never get to the real issue—and as you've probably heard me say before, 50 percent of the solution to any problem lies in defining it. Once you've figured that out, you're halfway home. But you can't get there until you flip the pancake.
Dr. Phillip C. McGraw's daily talk show is in its 12th season. He has written seven best-selling books; his latest is Life Code: The New Rules for Winning in the Real World (Bird Street).