I want to be a mind reader…

Much of my work deals with improving communication.  That’s because most of the world’s problems are a result of poor communication!  Many people blame the communicator for those problems, but it’s just as often the recipient who is at fault.  We hear, many times, what we expect to hear rather than what the other person is really saying.

Here’s an example:  An employee, Sue, had become frustrated with her job and with one particular co-worker.  She talked with her boss about her frustrations and told her boss she was over-worked.  She also told her boss that she did not believe she could work with John, the co-worker, any longer.  The boss took action and eliminated the need for Sue and John to work together by transferring some of the joint duties to Sue alone.  The boss’s thought was that this would eliminate a good deal of Sue’s frustrations and make her work more enjoyable.  Sue’s perception was that she was being punished for complaining by being given more work.  Sue resigned.

My perception is that both of these people, Sue and her boss, were trying to do the right thing.  Their intent was well-placed.  Sue wanted to be able to continue working with the company, and the boss wanted to ease Sue’s frustrations.  Yet in the midst of good intentions, something went awry. 

In an exit interview with Sue, she viewed her co-worker, John, as the boss’s favorite.  She expected the boss to take sides with John, and so when the boss changed the situation to try and make it better, Sue heard what she expected to hear — “you’re being punished for bad-mouthing John.” 

Now, none of the people in this story are bad people.  They aren’t intentionally trying to cause trouble or make anyone’s life miserable.  It’s simply that intentions were mis-read.  If only we could read each others’ minds…

“But, wait,” you say.  “You don’t really want to know what other people are thinking, do you?”  I’m sure there are times when ignorance is bliss in this area, and since we don’t have the ability to read minds, it’s a moot point anyway.

Here’s the lesson, though.  Since we can’t read someone else’s mind, we shouldn’t presume to think we can.  Isn’t that what we’re doing when we say things like, “well, she didn’t say that, but I”m sure that’s what she was thinking…”  Or, “he only said that because he’s trying to get on my good side…”  We frequently make up stories that suit our pre-conceived notions — and most of the time, they hurt us.

If we’re going to make up stories, let’s make up some good ones.  Or at least, let’s balance the scales by thinking of good things the other person might be thinking as well as the bad things that already come to mind.  Then, if we’ll choose to act with regard to the good stories in our heads, our actions may make situations better instead of worse.

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