The limitations of thinking.
One of the challenges in communication is in cutting through our assumptions.
Every relationship that goes beyond a simple transaction is fraught with potential challenges, confusion, and hurt feelings.
Our thoughts are a big reason why this is so true. When someone hurts our feelings, or we don’t like an interaction that we’ve had, our tendency is often to try to guess what their intentions were.
The smarter you are, the more likely you will believe whatever final analysis you make of the situation.
People who are analytical in nature have the hardest time with this because many of them make their living off of being able to look at a situation objectively and analyze it for meaning.
The issue here is that you cannot look at anything that happens to you with an objective eye.
Think about this: You will only ever see the world through your eyes, no matter how empathic you are or how hard you try.
Equally, nobody will ever know what it’s like to look at the world from your perspective. We are mysteries to each other.
I don’t know if that surprises you, but it sure does surprise me.
One of the assumptions that I have to continually surface for myself is that everyone else sees what I see when I look out at the world.
Note: this doesn’t suggest that reality itself is interpretive, rather that the meaning we derive from it is. In other words, what looks like bad news to one person, might look like good news to another.
Impact on Communication.
What this does to our communication is that it “colors” how we hear what people say or how we interpret the words and tone that they use.
You might think that you’re being extraordinarily clear when communicating to someone you work with, but you might be surprised by how your carefully chosen words and tone might be interpreted by different audiences.
If your team or audience is a mix of different cultures and backgrounds, expect even more confusion.
This is especially true if we make the assumption that everyone sees the world as we see it, or that our intent is understood.
Assume that it is not.
What can we do?
Surface your own assumptions about what your audience might know or care about. Check in with them.
Listen to what they say and pay attention to their assumptions.
More than anything, start with the premise that the greater the trust is between people, the more resilience and flexibility there is to deal with mistakes and clashing perspectives.
You build trust by respecting the relationship. Treat it as if it were a living thing that had to be cared for and fed.
You do this by focusing on the quality of the connection between you and the other person.
Ask yourself, is this an invitation or a command?
Am I trying to manage how this person thinks and feels, or am I allowing them to be their own person?
The better the connection, the better chance you have at building a relationship that leads to trust.
We do all of this through our communication, which means not only the words that we use, and the modes that we say those words (speaking, emailing, meetings, etc…), but with our whole presence.
The more aware you are of the assumptions you might have about yourself, the people you’re speaking with, or the situation that you’re talking about, the easier it is to surface them and check them out with the people you’re talking to.
Thinking, thinking, thinking…
If more people were willing to surface the assumptions that they have about others, and check those assumptions with the group, I believe that there would be fewer misunderstandings on teams.
The more complicated a project, and the more technical a team, the more likely these misinterpretations can happen.
I say “misinterpretations” not only because our assumptions about other people and their intentions are often wrong, but because even when they are right, they don’t serve the purpose of bringing us closer together.
The goal is trust.
The greater the trust, the greater the collaboration.
Higher trust means higher engagement and more clarity.
Take the time to surface what you’re thinking, and verify it with the team.
Easier over time.
If all this sounds onerous, I hear you. What we’re talking about it upending patterns of thinking and redefining the group. You can do this many different ways, but my recommendation is to be intentional. Don’t assume that just because you work with a group of people that they will begin to behave like a team.
To build trust, you have to guide people through the process of building a relationship.
Practicing how you communicate and understand each other will help that immensely.
The trick is not to believe your own negative thoughts when you sense that people don’t care, aren’t listening, or are defiantly rejecting you.
They might be, but then again, they might just be communicating in their own style.
Get curious, be brave, and communicate.