Expanding Perceptions And Consensus For Change

People only see what they are prepared to see.”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today, one of the most valuable talents is the ability to grasp fluid circumstances and gain agreement for a change initiative.   While there is an imperative to change, change creates stress, defensiveness, and resistance.  It is rarely greeted with unabashed enthusiasm (unless it is a pay increase).  So there is a temptation to demand that everyone gets on board but this provides short-term acquiescence, not active support.

Instead of pushing change by fiat, we can take another approach and commit to expanding our perceptions and situational understanding.  It means accepting that we operate from a limited perception.  For example,  what we see as an uncompromising opportunity can also be seen by others as an ominous threat.  To reach consensus we must expand our perceptions by asking questions and listening without judgment.  We must be willing to see what others see.

For example, when you look at the following illustration, how many squares do you see?

The common answer is 16 or 17.  And they are correct since it is clear that every single box and the whole illustration are squares.  Yet, if we change our perception, it becomes apparent that groupings of four single squares also form a square.  We just did not see all 30 squares with our first look.   And if we did follow this typical pattern, we fall into the over 90% of the responders that answer 16 or 17. (See PUZZLERSWORLD).  This exercise points to the reality that when we find an answer we stop searching.  Now, this exercise was simple so it is easy to jump to a conclusion. However, when we try to gain agreement, we need to expand our willingness to investigate and understand the issue from all perspectives.   We must agree that instead of thinking we know everything, we accept the need to learn more.   A comprehensive exploration leads to the new insights, solutions and aha moments.

Searching beyond initial reactions,  considering other interpretations, understanding constraints and factoring in trends reveal perspectives. These insights highlight ways to build a consensus.  In my experience, sticking points and loggerheads usually focus on different aspects.  What is essential to one is not critical to another.  Probing reveals new insight and it paves the way for win-win resolutions. Open-ended questions reveal perspectives that can be discussed, modified or sequenced into a plan that gains active support. Consensus takes time and effort but it is delivering results.

Are you willing to look beyond your initial conclusions? If so, you must ask questions covering every facet.  Not only will this build rapport, it will surface new facts that can form the foundation for true consensus.


Dr. Mary Lippitt
Dr. Mary Lippitt
Dr. Mary Lippitt is an award-winning author of "Brilliant or Blunder: 6 Ways Leaders Navigate Uncertainty, Opportunity, and Complexity.” She founded Enterprise Management Ltd. in 1984 to provide leaders with practical and effective solutions to navigate the modern business climate using situational mastery. Dr. Lippitt is a thought leader and speaker on executing change, optimal leadership, and situational analysis. She currently teaches in the MBA program at the University of South Florida. Mary is also the author of Situational Mindsets: Targeting What Matters When It Matters.

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  1. Dear Dr. Lipitt, I am deeply indebted to you for the deep-rooted thoughts you have brought forward; Thank You!

    On a side note, with due respect, I must mention a slight oversight in your selection of the above illustration depicting “30 Squares.” Unfortunately, there is NOT A SINGLE square in there. They are all rectangles. A square consists of all four equal sides. This is not the case here.

    It reminds me of the most common question I used to ask friends and acquaintances during my college days: ‘How many Novels did Shakespeare write?’ The most common response came with a certain number. The fact of the matter is that he did not write a single novel at all! I hope you will take my comment in the right perspective and pardon me for this audacity.

    I shall be looking forward to an appropriate revision so others may not lose your intrinsic message. When coaching leadership aspirants, we must first make sure that all our representation is well-rehearsed and loose ends tied together.

    Thanks, with Warm Regards

    • Bharat,
      Thank you for your comment, correction and Shakespearean example. I think we share a common awareness that perceptions can be expanded and that we do jump to conclusions. Actually think we are doing it more often than ever before as we get inundated with information and pressed for time.
      All the best to you,

    • Thanks once again, Dr. Lippitt, for your magnanimity in taking my slightly over the top critique in a positive way. I firmly endorse your views on the increasing information overload. No wonder, the evolving change puts extra pressure on ‘Leadership’ per se, to not only stay a cut above the rest but also be proficient in exercising innovative techniques and lead by example.

      I am sure this engagement will benefit me in multiple ways as I would be even more inclined to pay closer attention to your articles so I could derive maximum possible value out of the same.

      May Dear Lord Bless You and Yours, Always!

    • Bharat,
      Thanks for the kind words. I enjoy our exchanges. I will mention that my book Brilliant or Blunder outlines how leaders tend to overlook collecting information based on six different frames of reference. We continue to see leadership as an inside job (personal style and competencies) and neglect the role of external mastery. You can find it on Amazon as a digital or print book. If you do have the time to read, let’s continue the conversation.

      All the best,