Why Do You Think You Know What I’m Thinking?

Learning to use Clean Language to understand what another person is really thinking and feeling starts with a crucial step: the step of appreciating that you don’t already know.

Almost universally, people seem to believe they know what the people around them are thinking and feeling. And frequently, they act on their beliefs, without checking in with the person concerned.

They might dress up what they are doing as “intuition” or “empathy”.  But fundamentally, they are guessing.

And often, they’ll be guessing wrong.

Where does all this “mind-reading” come from? Reading Born To Run recently, I realised it might be a sensible side-effect of human evolution.

The book talks about humans having evolved as persistence hunters, tracking and outrunning animals on the world’s grassy plains. To make a success of this, it seems, people needed to transport themselves into the minds of the animals they were tracking.

“Once you learn to think like another creature, you can anticipate what it will do and react before it ever acts…”

Maybe, I’m thinking, our ability to transport ourselves into the minds of other animals developed into our ability to mind-read other humans, rather than the other way round.

Mind-reading is clearly useful in new mothers, who need to predict what their babies need, and in some other specific contexts.

But for adults in most social and business situations, mind-reading can be profoundly annoying – and often very unhelpful.

As many who’ve adopted Clean Language as a standard operating procedure have found, when people are granted the time and space to do their own thinking, to explain what they actually mean by what they say, and to be clear about what they want, creativity flourishes, arguments become much less frequent and effectiveness skyrockets.

  • A festive gift: why not experiment with the idea that you don’t know what your relatives are thinking and feeling – and instead, ask them?

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