The Power of Perspective to Shape Behavior

I just hung up the phone from a coaching call with one of my clients.  He was applying for a significant executive position and wanted my help with his resume and interview strategy.  We talked for a bit, and I suggested a different way to look at his resume.

A light bulb went off.  All at once, he was full of energy and enthusiasm.  Just a moment prior, he was sober and analytical; now he was excited and couldn’t wait to get at the task of revising his document.  In a matter of a few moments, something changed.  As a result, he now saw possibilities where before there were only obstacles.

What changed?

His perspective.  The situation was exactly as it was a few minutes earlier.  He was the same person, with the same set of skills, life experiences, and qualities of character.  But he saw things differently, through a different lens.  His perspective changed, and that changed everything.

That experience was, from my side of the table, a great reminder of the power of perspective to stimulate and shape behavior.  We see examples of it all around us.

Our perspective, in many ways, influences and shapes our actions.  I have often observed that people generally find that for which they look.  I’m not talking about our misplaced car keys.  I mean in situations involving dealing with other human beings, we generally see the qualities and traits of character that we expect to see.  For example, as salespeople, we may go into an account with the perspective that this account is populated with small-minded people who are going to squeeze us for every penny they can and choose the lowest cost provider no matter what.  Guess what?  Generally, that’s what we find.

On the other hand, we can go into the account with a different perspective. Let’s say our point of view is that this account is run by well-intentioned people who want only the best for their organization.  Amazingly, that’s generally what we will find.

Now don’t jump all over my example and claim, “Wait, some people really are penny-pinchers, regardless of what I think.”  Granted.  People are different, and there are some in every type and classification.  I’m not talking about them, I’m talking about us.

In my example above, the objective truth is probably somewhere in the middle.  They may be well-intentioned, striving for quality, and cost-conscious.  Don’t miss the point.  If we expect people to be untrustworthy, it will be their untrustworthiness that rises to the surface of our radar scan.  If we expect them to be kind, we’ll notice their kindness.  If we expect them to be self-absorbed, we’ll notice their lack of concern for others.

And, since we generally notice those qualities and traits that we expect to see, that perspective changes and influences our behavior.  That’s the point.  I have often observed that, when people talk about other people, they really reveal more about themselves than they do about the subject of their conversation.  That’s because their judgments reveal their perspectives.

Let’s go back to my example.  Regardless of the objective truth of the issue, if our perspective is that they are penny-pinchers, our experience will generally confirm that, and we’ll treat them that way.

Clearly, the opposite is also true.  If we expect them to be value-driven, we’ll see them that way, and we’ll treat them accordingly.

The thing that makes the difference in how we treat them is not them, it is our perspective of them.

As a lifelong educator and sales trainer, I have observed a powerful truth about human behavior.  It is this:  Our perspectives on ourselves are far more important than our perspectives on other people.  As we see ourselves, so shall we be.  If we see ourselves as victims, we will forever be a victim.  If we see ourselves as successful, we will eventually arrive there.

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If therefore, we can uncover and release ourselves from our limiting perspectives of ourselves, we can transform our behavior and enjoy dramatically improved results.

I’ve seen it countless times in the work that I do.  I’ll have people come into my seminars with the perspective that this is just a job, and leave with a vision of themselves as professional salespeople, and proud of it.  Since they now see themselves as professional salespeople, they act that way.  As a result of their changed actions, they enjoy dramatically improved results.  Here’s the equation:

Changed Perspective = Changed Actions = Improved Results

But the principle is bigger and more applicable than just sales.  It applies to every aspect of our lives.  The more I reflect on my life and those around me, the more I see that so much of our behavior can be attributed to perspectives gained during our formative years.

For example, for my entire life, I have been both empowered by and hindered by the perspective that I was forever on my own, independent, self-sufficient and self-contained.  That perspective was a direct result of my parents’ intentional actions to instill it in each of their six boys.  My father had a heart condition and was never expected to live a full life.  My parents, therefore, intentionally instilled that perspective into us to enable us to get along in a world without a father’s presence.

That has been a powerful perspective, shaping my actions and character throughout my life.

So, too, for each of us.  The perspectives we gained as we grew up shape our actions and reactions.  They harden and form into habits, attitudes, and eventually, character traits.

If we want to change our results, then we ought to work on changing our perspectives.


Dave Kahle
Dave Kahle
YOUR business can be much more than just a money-making enterprise. Helping you achieve that potential is Dave Kahle’s passion. He has been helping business grow for 30 years. The author of The Good Book on Business, he’s written 12 other books, which have been published in eight languages and distributed around the world, and has presented in 47 states and 11 countries. He has personally and contractually worked with over 459 companies, and touched thousands of others through his seminars, speaking engagements, and webinars. You’ll find him challenging your paradigms and prompting you to think more deeply.

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