A Shift in Perspective – You Do Not Know What They’re Thinking!

Have you ever said to someone, “I know what you’re thinking” and then went on to tell them what you believed they were thinking about the conversation?

My husband, God bless him, does this to me regularly. “I know what you’re thinking. You think …….” and then he goes on and tells me what he thinks, I think. To his credit everyone once in a while he’s correct, but mostly, not so much.

Has anyone else ever been so far off base you can’t even imagine how you got there?  This is one of those stories.

“Sometimes I don’t even know how I got into this family of mine”. She said, laughingly, sure, but still serious. “My family thinks I’m nuts. They just don’t get me at all. I honestly don’t even know how I was raised with these people we’re so different”.

“Tell me,” I said. “How do you know”?

She took off into the story of the most recent conversation with family members and the talk about the weather, politics, and family drama, and her interjection with a great novel she had recently read.

“They just STARED at me! Like my head spun around.  Half of them looked at me like I was crazy and the other half just looked at the floor”.

I asked again, “How do you know”?

“How do I know what?” she questioned.

“How do you know what they were thinking”? I asked.

So we began a conversation about her assumptions.  This is an amazing woman who often doesn’t feel like she fits in in any group. She has limiting beliefs about her value in groups and organizations, and often experiences herself as an “outsider”.

“So,” I started, “What if you were wrong? What if everything you believed they were thinking was 180 degrees different from what you thought?”

There was only silence on the other end of the call.

I continued, “What if the looks were looks of ‘I need to think about this because I’ve never heard of this book, or the concepts of it before’, or what if the subject matter was brand new?  What if they were afraid of embarrassing themselves by admitting they didn’t know what you were talking about, or were waiting to see if someone else at the table would respond so they could see where the conversation was going to go because they were nervous about looking ignorant in front of everyone? What if the looks towards the floor were the looks of people who felt stupid by comparison because you are so well-read, and they just felt dumb? What if the entire time you believed you knew what they were thinking…you were absolutely wrong?”

She sat silently for a minute. “I never ever thought of that”, she whispered.

“Maybe you’ll want to next time,” I responded.

We often believe we know what someone else is thinking or feeling because of OUR lens of ourselves. We misread, misinterpret, make assumptions (you know what they say about that word), and forecast based on how we tend to see ourselves in our own beliefs and values.

Quite simply, how you truly feel about yourself is often how you believe others feel about you.

Your lens determines the clarity of your vision and oftentimes we are not all that clear.

Life requires vulnerability. Give yourself an opportunity to be truly available to what is happening; ask questions, and be curious about what people think and feel. Ask them! And by doing so, let yourself experience the clarity of the experience. By putting our assumptions aside we allow others truly participate in the conversation and we can all be open and available to what happens next.

Forever the journey, Anne

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