Let’s say your child comes home from school downcast, frustrated and grumpy. How you talk with him about his unhappiness can make a big difference in his life — not only in the kind of relationship you will have with him, but also in the kind of relationships he will develop with others.
In her new book, Mind in the Making, Ellen Galinsky gives research-backed advice on how “perspective taking” is one of the most valuable tools parents can use in dealing with their kids. She also explains how “perspective taking” is an essential life skill kids need to take on challenges and reach their full potential.
I’m delighted to share with you a recent interview I had with Ellen.
Joanne: Please tell us what you mean when you talk about “perspective taking” and why it is so important to human relationships and success in life.
Ellen: At the Families and Work Institute, we conduct an ongoing nationally representative study of the U.S. workforce. Over the years, we find that bosses who have children or elder care responsibilities are rated the most positively as bosses by their employees — they are more likely to keep employees informed of what they need to know to do their jobs well, have realistic expectations for employees’ performance, recognize employees for doing a good job at work, and are supportive when employees have work problems.
I have been asked repeatedly, why this is so. In some ways, it’s a counter-intuitive finding — having kids or elder care responsibility makes you a better boss — really?
My assumption is that having children and/or elder care responsibilities help bosses learn the skill of perspective taking — to become more adept at recognizing what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes, to understand what others think and feel. It includes empathy but goes far beyond it. Thus, when they supervise employees, bosses can take the employees’ perspectives into account and manage them more effectively. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a person widely acclaimed for his great leadership style, says that one of the leadership skills he works hard on cultivating is listening to and understanding the men and women in the armed services he oversees.
Research on children’s development supports this interpretation. Children who become more adept at perspective taking are more likely to be ready for school and succeed in school because they are more skilled at understanding and interpreting teachers’ expectations; they perform better on literacy tasks because they can understand the behavior of the characters in the books they are reading; and they are less likely to get into fights with other kids because they are more skilled at making sense of other kids’ behavior and less likely to jump to false conclusions about what is going on.
Related: Are We Losing Our Empathy?