In today's political climate, "mind reading" seems to have become a national pass-time. Judging by the discourse on social-media, you would swear up and down that everyone is certain that people on the other side of the political fence is either a Nazi or Antifa. Of course, everyone believes they are on the side wearing a white hat. It's the people on the other side who are the "bad guys."
But then, if you actually talk to people on the other side, you begin to realize, that maybe, just maybe, the other side isn't chalk-full of bad guys like we once believed. I'm not saying there aren't people in these fringe movements. There clearly are. What I am saying, however, is that we're conflating a few awful people with a lot of good people who express different opinions, but who don't condone particular -isms and aren't an adjective that ends in -obe. However, for a lot of us, in our minds, everyone on the other side is evil. We've read their minds and we know what we're talking about.
But is this true? As Jamie Kilstein, a comedian, wrote in an opinion piece called I Sold My Soul on Twitter. Now I'm Trying to Win it Back, "The lessons I’ve learned since my divorce from left-wing Twitter go beyond social media. I’m now skeptical of any ideology whose organizing principle is based on the practice of dividing the world between angels and villains." This lesson came after he started to actually talk and listen to those he had considered Nazis just a couple years earlier. It's a lesson, I believe, we all need to learn, because we are all guilty of making the same mistake from time to time. It's also a lesson that could be expanded into realms other than politics, including our relationships at work.
At work, we are often just as guilty of attributing and assuming the worst motivations about a what another person says or the actions they take, without so much as (a) considering the context that might have surrounded the statement or behavior, and (b) without talking to the other person and asking him or her for clarification. I'm sure you've all heard this before, but I think it needs to be repeated (over and over again). When we assume, it makes an ASS out of U and ME.
Here are a few examples of what I mean.
I Didn't Get Hired/Promoted Because I'm...
It's really easy to point to our physical characteristics or age as the reason we didn't get hired or promoted. However, a majority of the time, managers make personnel decisions based on how a candidate will benefit them and the team, rather than out of personal animus towards a characteristic (don't get me wrong, though, there are jerks who do).
For instance, maybe the chosen candidate was more experienced, had a particular skill needed for the job that you didn't possess, or was willing to take a salary lower than you were willing to accept. It could be literally anything that lead him or her to select someone else other than you. The same goes for an internal promotion. There are a lot of factors involved and you simply don't know all of them. So don't assume the worst case scenario, assume the best. Trust me, you'll feel better if you do.
Why? Because then it's something you have control over and can change. Not enough experience? Get involved in projects that will give you more experience or volunteer for an organization in the field you're pursuing. Need an additional skill? Go to some training or get certified.
Now consider the worst case scenario. What can you do about your situation there? Absolutely nothing but get angry over it.
You might also consider, especially if it's for a promotion, to talk to the manager who passed you over. Ask him or her for advice on what to do so you'll get the promotion next time. Doing so will make the manager less defensive and actually put them on your side in helping you achieve your goals. Maybe they'll even be your mentor. When you assume the best in people, they are generally much more inclined to help you than if you assume the worst in them.
My Co-Worker Thinks They're My Boss
No one likes a busy-body that's hovering over them. It's bad enough when it's your boss, but it's even worse when it's a co-worker trying to tell you what to do. Here's the thing, though. Why are you assuming that they think they are your boss? There could be a number of reasons for how they are behaving. Maybe they don't like giving up control to others because that's their nature. That doesn't mean they think they're your boss, it could just mean they have a different personality than you. It could also be that you're new and they want to make sure you know what you're doing. They could have also been burnt by you at some point and now they feel like they need to make sure you're doing it right. Whatever it is, it may have nothing to do with them having a power trip.
Here's another good example. I had a friend who was venting to me about a co-worker who had her cubicle next to a window. My friend was down the row a little bit and felt like the office was too dark when then blinds were shut. So she opened them one afternoon when her co-worker had the day off. It was so nice to get a little natural light in the office, my friend thought. Others on the team had commented similarly. The next morning she came to work and the blinds were shut. My friend proceeded to open them again, her co-worker would close them. This went on for a while. So as she concluded her vent to me, I asked her, "Did you ask her why she preferred the blinds closed?" My friend's response was, "No. She's on a power-trip." Maybe. It could have also been that when the blinds were open, it got too hot in her cubicle. It could have been that the sun was reflecting on her computer monitor and she couldn't see well. Or it could have been for some other benign reason. I couldn't convince my friend. To her, she was clearly a petty person who wouldn't yield her power.
I'm not even certain if her co-worker knew who was opening the blinds, but for my friend, this was office warfare that she continued to wage off and on until she left the company for a better opportunity. It's a shame, all this did was make my friend upset every time she went to work. A conversation about it may not have solved the problem, but it might have helped. They may have even come up with a reasonable compromise. Unfortunately, the conviction to her mind reading had won out.
He or She Said this Because...
By now, you should be seeing a pattern. You can see we are filling in the blanks ourselves without the input from the other person to clarify. In this case, someone at work said something dumb, insensitive, or just not well considered. It's funny, with friends and family, we are generally forgiving of this because we know them pretty well. But with acquaintances at work, we can be pretty strict about what others can get away with. We can take something they say as a personal attack.
For example, a few years ago, a friend on Facebook, who is Asian-American, was upset because she and her co-worker had gone to a restaurant to have late breakfast/early lunch together. This person noticed that my friend had ordered a seafood plate and asked, "Is this a common breakfast dish for Chinese?" The way my Facebook friend heard this question was as an ethnic slight. Maybe it was. It is possible. But she also could have been honestly curious about her culture and what they ate for breakfast. After all, people from different parts of the world do eat different things for their meals. I suggested this as a possibility in the comments and was quickly told that this is what Google is for. If she wanted to learn more about Asian culture and cuisine, she should look it up herself. I didn't push any further. No one wants to be told that they are mind reading when they know for a fact that they aren't.
Things we don't understand or believe are too outlandish are quick to be labeled "crazy." What might, at first glance, sound like a terrible idea, may, in fact, be an idea that's coming from another angle that you haven't thought of before.
Just think of all the "crazy" ideas that's come to fruition in just our lifetime. Crazy could just be innovative or unique. I'm sure Steve Jobs had many people who thought he was crazy when he described the iPhone. "A computer, phone, and camera mashed into one little device? Can't be done. You're crazy!" Boy, did his detractors have egg on their face a few years later. What others called crazy, turned out to be genius.
So, rather than discounting a person as crazy, listen and hear the person's ideas out. Try to see where they are coming from. You may still come to the conclusion that he's wacko, but you might realize that he isn't as crazy as you first thought. Just because something has never done that way, doesn't mean that it's not a good idea to try.
Instead of Mind Reading, Ask for a Clarification
Like I said in the beginning, to assure yourself that you are not trying to read another person's mind, you should ask for clarification so that you can understand what the other person meant by their words and/or deeds as well as the context that surrounded the situation.
If you feel something is off about what a person said or did, rather than judging them on what you believe they meant by it, ask them. Sure, it's an awkward conversation, but it's one worth having. The second step, is to accept their clarification. Even if you don't like the person, accept it. Take it at face value. Otherwise your mind reading can take you to a dark place.
It's ok. We all think we can read another person's mind. You are not alone. The fact that we now know we do this and also know that we're not good at it, is a start. But to really improve, and to make the world a better place, we need to do the extra step and talk to each other so we can understand each other better. It's only then that we can stop using our faulty powers of mind reading.
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