“Don’t judge a man until you have walked in his shoes.” This proverb, originally attributed to the Native American Cherokee tribe, was later popularized by Harper Lee in her famous novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird”: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Life is a first-person experience. We each interpret the world from our own perspective and bring to every circumstance our unique beliefs, attitudes, values and experiences. Together, these elements form what are called “perceptual filters.” Perceptual filters are like a pair of glasses, a lens through which we make sense of what we see and hear.
Conflict and challenges may arise when people possess different perceptual filters that manifest themselves in the workplace. For example, a supervisor may intend negative feedback as constructive criticism, while the employee may interpret her words as disrespectful or demeaning. Similarly, a consumer may perceive a customer service representative as apathetic or inept, while the representative views the consumer as difficult and demanding.
Cultural and generational differences can lead to misunderstandings and adversely impact teams. Tone of voice, body language, lifestyle preferences, and unconscious biases about ethnicity, gender or age can undermine organizational performance. Left unaddressed, these issues may result in underdeveloped talent, employee turnover, lost sales or product failures.
So how do we, as learning experts, provide opportunities for our employees to walk in somebody else’s shoes and understand how another person is thinking and feeling? How do we help them develop the self-awareness to see themselves as others see them?
One of the most effective and scalable approaches is rich, realistic simulations that enable learners to assume the roles of others and “play” through believable, interactive stories. These video-based tools allow users to see identical events from multiple perspectives and to make decisions for different characters that alter the narrative. For example, a new millennial hire can become a seasoned senior manager, and a senior manager can become a new hire. Each can walk around in the other’s skin while gaining insight about how they are perceived by others.
Here are eight critical elements for success with this approach:
- Create a video that is robust enough to develop an engaging story arc.
- Use high-quality, professional acting and directing to meet the expectations of today’s consumer.
- Make the story research-based, realistic and grounded in actual events.
- Make your characters human and multidimensional, so that learners identify and empathize with them.
- Develop a narrative that elicits a range of emotions. Learning should engage viewers at a personal level without being judgmental.
- Enable learners to drive the experience by making decisions that alter the storyline and the outcomes.
- Base the product on solid learning pedagogy and neuroscience principles.
- Integrate into the instructional design the universal desire to win and be recognized for good decision-making.
The ability to see situations through the eyes of others is a powerful tool for optimizing both individual and organizational performance. By combining the universal appeal of story, the magic of video and the power of leading-edge technology, we can connect with learners’ minds, hearts and souls. This integration helps us reach both the most primal and yet advanced form of human processing, since video is the medium of our dreams. (No one dreams in avatars.)
Training organizations can deliver these simulations across the enterprise online and on mobile devices. The sticky learning they provide creates a reach-back that employees can access when they face similar decisions in real life. They are especially effective in rapidly changing, high-stress workplaces, where quick critical thinking, adaptability and agility are crucial.