Are you expecting people to read your mind?
Let me put that another way: Am I expecting people to read my mind?
It happens all the time. I'll be sad that so-and-so made other plans for the weekend, because didn't he know how much I wanted to spend time with him? Or I'll be indignant that such-and-such a person hasn't responded to my email yet, because doesn't she understand how eagerly I'm anticipating her reply? It's totally natural to be upset about things not going the way we want them too. But when the disappointment comes in the form of a miscommunication, or simply a dearth of communication, we stoke the flames of our own anger by assuming that the other party knows our own mind and armed with that knowledge, is hurting us anyway.
Ah, but now I'm writing a self help column. What is this blog anyway? I'm still figuring that out.
I am thinking about communication and mind-reading for two reasons:
- An unavoidable frustration of a lot of jobs — including some of the jobs that I do — is the expectation on the part of the powers-that-be that those working with and for them will be able to read their minds. If I’m being honest, this drives me CRAZY, especially after the fact, when someone is mad at me for NOT reading their mind better. With writing, it comes in the form of failing to adequately decipher a vague-but-important note. In the world of assistants, there’s often the expectation that your assistant will be able to just magically know where a file is stored or what you wanted a voicemail message to sound like or some such thing. When something annoys me that I cannot change, I sometimes find it helpful to turn it around and examine where in my own life I might be holding people to the same frustrating account.
- I'm reading Brené Brown's Rising Strong at the moment, and in the pages I read this morning, she delves into the question of "what story are we telling ourselves?" about a way in which we've been slighted or are failing. It was a compelling new dynamic with which to approach hurt feelings and defeat in general. Especially to me, a woman who wears the badge of Consummate Storyteller proudly. What wrongs or failings in my life have been deepened because of the story I told myself about what was happening? Just because I flatter myself in possession of a good intuition doesn't mean the stories I've "intuited" are always true.
- Talking to my father on the phone tonight, I complained to him about an occasion when I was expected to be a mind reader. How I was confused about something and asked for clarification. How unprepared I was for the reaction I got, where instead of a dialogue I was chastised for not already having the answers. How angry it made me, and how I kept that anger to myself until it subsided and was replaced by nicer things. I knew that I was just venting to my dad, but the thing about complaining to my dad is that a very wise, very compassionate man can see through your complaint to the heart of the matter. The first thing out of his mouth was so sage that I wrote it down (I've never done that before!) he said:
"The fundamental nature of communication is that it's ambiguous."
Damn, Dad. That's good stuff. And no, it does not escape me that I am extremely lucky to have the kind of father who comes up with shit like “the fundamental nature of communication is that it's ambiguous" right off the top of his head.
My capacity to change the behavior of others is highly limited. But I do have control over myself (for the most part). If I can remember that the fundamental nature of communication is that it's ambiguous; if I can remember that when you expect mind reading you are setting yourself up for surefire disappointment; if I can remember that sometimes the story I'm telling myself about a miscommunication isn't necessarily true...well, in the process I'll also be taking a giant step out of my own way.