Let Others Speak/Feel for Themselves

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“We cannot safely assume that other people’s minds work on the same principles as our own. All too often, others with whom we come in contact do not reason as we reason, or do not value the things we value, or are not interested in what interests us.” ~ Isabel Briggs Myers

mom and goth kidThere is a practice that has the power to sabotage communication and relationships. We all do it, or have done it. It is so prevalent in the way we think about others that we are scarcely aware we are violating others when we do it. It is like a computer virus that has the potential to disable all of our programs.

What could it be?

It is when we make assumptions about what others are thinking. How often sentences begin with, “you think”, “she thinks”, “they think”, or even, “everyone thinks”. It is not an assumption when you report directly and accurately what another has said. Telling someone your preschooler thinks there are monsters under the bed may be a statement of fact, if that is what she told you. However, to say that your teenager thinks everyone should pick up after him, because he never puts anything away, is an assumption, unless he actually made that statement.

Statements such as, “You think you can just walk all over me”, “You think the world revolves around you”, or “You just don’t care”, are actually very invasive, hostile and judgmental. It is hard for the recipient of such messages to respond in any reasonable way. Denial of the allegation generally invites further judgments, as the speaker tries to prove his or her assumption is accurate. Saying, for example, that he does care, may cause the speaker to cite a litany of examples “proving” that he does not. Unable to respond reasonably, the one attached may resort to tossing out a few assumptions of his own, reacting angrily, or simply walking away. Of course this “proves” to the initiator that she was right all along. Right? Wrong!

This is what we call crazy-making. It distorts the communication process, and takes on a life of its own. We must let others speak for themselves. We honor them when we take the time to ask what their thoughts and feelings are. We must accept what they say as their truth. There is simply no point in arguing with someone about what they think, because we cannot get into their heads.

If there is any doubt in your mind about how this affects others, just try to remember a time when someone either told you what you thought, or otherwise insisted he knew more about what is in your head than you do. It is to communication what a red flag is to a bull.

Copyright © Gwen Randall-Young, All Rights Reserved. Contact us if you would like permission to reprint.
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