From an early age, when we were unable or not inclined to challenge them, family and teachers often interpreted our thoughts and actions. In other words they mind read. “Billy bashed into the wall on his bike because he was angry.” This may or may not have been true. Billy may have been distracted by a shiny object or lost concentration because he was experiencing a sugar high. But the adult interpretation is likely to have been accepted as fact, contributed towards how Billy was expected to behave in the future as well as how he thought about himself.
In adult relationships, whether in the workplace or home, mind reading can create havoc.
Departments can become seething centres of ill-feeling and misunderstanding and intimate relationships can be destroyed because the people involved believe that they know what the other person is thinking, the reason behind what they said, did or did not do.
Mind reading can become a habit. It may develop for self-preservation in threatening circumstances or be a form of people pleasing. But, unless we are psychic, mind reading occurs through filters of our own life experiences and beliefs. Coming from that perspective, our mind reading is likely to be inaccurate. There is only one way to resolve that: ASK. Ask how the other person is feeling, what was behind their comment, decision or action. Not in a judgmental way, but with a sense of curiosity.
A while ago, I was asked to help de-stress a customer service call centre. The absentee rate was high, stress levels were soaring and the work itself was challenging. The customers all had problems to be resolved, expected to have to fight for their rights and many were aggressive and abusive. Before each call the staff members were stressed and dreading yet another draining call.
The more stressed the staff became, the more over-sensitive they were with one another and their customers, and the more they negatively mind read other people’s thoughts and actions.
They found the simple exercise below helpful:
Mind Reading Exercise
- Begin to notice when you are mind reading.
- Connect with the other person; look them in the eye, talk with them
- Ask them what they think, feel or the reason behind their desire or decision. (You may be surprised by their answers.)
- Be curious, open minded and kind.
Followed regularly, this little exercise begins to remove the stressful burden of mind reading and helps relationships to become more respectful, friendly and fun.