Sometimes life (and work) feels a bit like a game. For some of us, it’s a game of rugby. We live life all in, wrestling with our challenges head on, unafraid of a little dirt. For others, it’s like a board game. Each move thought out and carefully made. And yet still for others, it might be like a game of stuck in the mud. Only making a move when life really forces us to. Although these feel like vast comparisons, every game has something in common:  to make a good move, you first need to observe. And sometimes this observance is best done from the sideline.  

The Power of Observation

Let’s return to the analogy of a game. In his book Leading, Alex Ferguson says “When I stepped back and watched from the sidelines, my field of view was widened and I could absorb the whole session, as well as pick up on players moods, energies and habits.”

We don’t want to remain in the slideline of our own life. By taking moments to step back and view things from a birds eye view brings the kind of perspective that we can’t find when our head is buried deep in the ‘doing’ of life. A simple return to the bench, every now and then, provides the mental space to explore undiscovered ideas, understandings, and opinions. 

Simple PRactices to create perspective

Here’s a few practices to help you create perspective taking:: 

Breaking down tense conversations: So often, for people to hear our side we must first acitvely show them we hear theirs. When you’re preparing for a tough conversation, whether it be with a colleague or loved one, ask yourself first:

– What is your core desire or frustration that is fueling this conflict? What might be theirs? 
– Where might your opinions or beliefs not be fully supported by facts?
– Think of somebody you consider wise. What advise would they give you? 
– Ask “what if” questions to discover win-win solutions. Ask as many as you can think of! 

Gratitude journalling with a twist: Instead of focusing solely on what you’re grateful for, give it a perspective shake. Write down a challenge you faced and your gratitude for the people or resources that helped you overcome it. 

Be your own challenger: We can become fixed in our ways, beliefs and opinions. Challenge yourself: ask the tough questions. Become your own opposition, and discover areas worth more exploration. 

The “Why?” Chain: this is a great technique for coming up with new ideas and understanding differing opinions. When considering a system or opinion, instead of jumping to a conclusion start by asking “why?” Listen attentatively to every answer, and keep asking “why?” until you can’t anymore. This helps you understand the thought process and fundamental nature of the topic at hand. 

where do I need more symphony; more sideline observance?
By taking a step back, we can actually empower the doing.

In his book A Whole New Mind, Dan Pink talks about symphony in a way that strongly reminds us of the notion of stepping back to connect the dots of a bigger picture. He says, “Symphony is the capacity to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields; to detect broad patterns rather than deliver specific answers, and to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair.” 


If we take a page from his book and apply it to life, the playing field suddenly expands. There are resources, ideas, questions, answers, and experiences waiting to be noticed, to be engaged, to be seen. We are never stuck; but we might need to take a trip to the bench on the sideline every now and then. 

The stands are a place to go to notice people and develop relationships. In Café life’s book – Playfully Engaged, we talk about this.
When we stand back and notice people, we are able to build trust, or even just create valuable insights into our lives about the space that others are in.

Think about it as a manager in a team. Do we go to the stands and ask, what are our customers saying? Or do we frantically go at it in the same way over and over again without good insight?

Where do you, me, the team, etc. need to go to the stands to gain a broader perspective? 

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