Can you imagine being in my shoes?

One of my favorite descriptions of interpersonal relations is as follows:

"Ein Gang zu zwei: Auge vor Auge,Mund vor Mund. Und bist du bei mir, so will ich dir die Augen aus den Hoehlen resisen and an Stelle der meinen setzen, und du wirst die meinen ausbrechen und an Stelle der deinen setzen, dann will ich dich mit den deinen und du wirst mich mit meinen Augen anschauen. [1]

Translated: "A  Meeting of two: eye to eye, face to face. And when you are near I will tear your eyes out and place them instead of mine, and you will tear my eyes out and place them instead of yours, then I will look at you with your eyes and you will look at me with mine.

 Although all projection may not be negative as, for example as when two people are in  love, projection is a way of perceiving reality. Trusting another person may be positive and  trust may often be perceived as beauty is," in the eyes of the beholder".


Attribution without retribution may well prove to be one of the most baffling challenges to the human psyche. How can we recognize when a person is being "real" or "sincere"? How can we avoid blaming others for what we ourselves do, or don't do, and attribute it to some kind of character fault? Fritz Heider has demonstrated that we often underestimate situational causes that affect others whereas we overestimate influences caused by ourselves due to our disposition. Certainly when it comes to trust this is a common phenomena. If another doesn't seem trustworthy, we can quickly underestimate the environmental cause, but if we are untrustworthy, we can quickly defend that it is not a result of our character, but rather due to circumstances beyond our control.

It has been hypothesized that there are several reasons for this phenomenon. First, we may find that by focusing on the negative aspects of others, that we can protect ourselves from unfavorable comparisons of ourselves. Secondly, a defensive posture may give us the feeling that we can survive better because the negative appears to hurt us more that the positive can help us. Thirdly, we may learned that the pursuit of the positive life is good but not so good, that the negative is worth avoiding at all costs. Sometimes in the attribution process we simply make errors in our judgment of others.

We may choose to discount this error and further suggest that the other person did not cause the behavior in the first place. At other times we may simply focus on the most obvious behavior and overlook other less obvious behavior. Another type of error in the attribution process is an "egocentric bias" which means that we assume that most people are like us.[2]

Role reversal techniques may assist us in building empathy in relationships. Role reversal may be thought of as a type of projective technique. The empty technique is a projective technique that facilitates role reversal. As pointed out in lesson 15, role reversal can increase our awareness of projection.  One way to practice your new skill is to pair off with  another person and engage in a controversial discussion. You and your partner may practice the role reversal skill as follows:

Time your discussion. Flip a coin to see who goes first. The first discussant speaks for 5 minutes and the listener is silent. After five   minutes, role reversal occurs, as the listener now becomes the speaker and the speaker becomes the listener.  The second  speaker has  5 minutes to present his/her side of the discussion. After the 10 minutes, each person takes fives minutes and assumes  the other person's position.  Each person presents the view point of the other in the same 5 minute format as in the beginning. After both have presented the other's viewpoint, then both take five minutes to summarize the points they can agree on.[3]

What is the result of your practice of the role reversal skill? How did you like this exercise? Did you become more empathetic to the other's viewpoint? What did you learn about your self? Did the role reversal exercise increase your awareness and empathy for the other person and his/ her viewpoint? Why, or why not, do you think so?

 1. J.L. Moreno, Sociometry, A Journal of Inter-Personal Relations and Experimental Design, Beacon, New York, Beacon House, Vol. XVIII, December 1955,  No. 4 p. 309 
 2. Don E. Hamachek, 
Encounter with Others: Interpersonal Relationships and You, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston,1982,
pp25-29 
 3.
David  W. Johnson , Reaching Out: Interpersonal Effectiveness and Self-Actualization, Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1997, Exercise, 8.15, p. 273

E-mail: rbrehm@msn.com  Copyright 1998  [Robert Brehm]. All rights reserved.