This book is powerful, and essential reading for anyone who works with people in conflict. It will challenge your assumptions about the benefits of taking another’s perspective, and help you identify the limitations of trying to do so. The book provides some very practical insight about where to focus your energy when you are trying to help two people understand each other better.
We constantly make inferences about what other people are thinking, feeling and what they might want. We do it so often in our daily lives, most of the time we don’t even realise we are doing it. However, Epley shows in this book that we are likely to understand much less about the minds of others (even people we know very well) than we believe.
Epley says that the main purpose of this book is to reduce your illusion of insight into the minds of others, both by trying to improve your understanding and by inducing a greater sense of humility about what you know – and what you do not know – about others. Epley explains how the way we try to read other people’s minds often leads to mistakes and conflict. He also shows that when we are in conflict, we are even more likely to have inaccurate views about each other.
Epley explains that there is no evidence that perspective taking – putting yourself in another person’s shoes and imagining the world through his or her eyes – increases accuracy in these judgments. In fact, overthinking someone’s emotional expression or inner intentions when there is little else to go on might introduce more error than insight.
Epley’s overall advice is that rather than relying on your imagination to try to “take” another person’s perspective, you would be better expending your energy on creating an environment in which you are able to ask them to “give” it to you. Knowing others’ minds requires asking and listening, not just reading and guessing. I love this quote from the book: “Others’ minds will never be an open book. The secret to understanding each other better seems to come not through an increase ability to read body language or improved perspective taking but, rather, through the hard relational work of putting people in a position where they can tell you their minds openly and honestly”