December 10, 2012

Ask People What They’re Thinking

published this at 7:12 am

I Can’t Read Your Mind

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When I was younger, maybe ten or eleven, I used to wonder about what other people were thinking. I’d sit in my desk at school and imagine I was another person, sitting in that person’s desk, thinking what that person was thinking. At times, I’d wonder whether that person ever did the same thing — sat in his or her desk wondering what I was thinking.

As I got older, maybe 15 or 16, I began to ask people what they were thinking. Some people answer that they had been thinking the most amazing things.Some people would say they had been thinking absolutely nothing. Seemed a strange thing that a person could think nothing.

I didn’t realize until I was older still that people often answered that question with something they might have decided I was expecting or something that they devised on the spot because what they were thinking didn’t seem worthy or relevant.

What Are You Thinking?

Over a quiet moment at a romantic first-date dinner, a young man asked “What are you thinking?” and my answer was, “I was thinking about the bread.” Not exactly the most charming response to my date. It was a long complicated set of thoughts that had brought from thoughts of meals shared with people I cared about to how it’s called “breaking bread.”

He was affronted that my thoughts seemed less than romantic and not at all about the moment … with him.

I tried to explain how the bread related. The more I said the more irrelevant my words sounded even to me.

My thoughts had been soft yet suddenly I was feeling small and wrong for moment’s mental connection that happened without intention … the way connections between ideas happen for me.

We never became a couple. We showed no signs of an ability to communicate on the simplest things.

He wanted me to be thinking what he was thinking at that moment and I wasn’t. Had he not asked he might have assumed I was … I expect that eventually would have had equally bad results.

Ask People What They’re Thinking

I’m thinking on that story now because I realized this morning, how often I see people take a wrong turn by deciding what someone else is thinking. Misled by their silence or a nondescript comment we invent their world view by putting our thoughts into their mind. You can only imagine what scenarios we’ve been able to conjure out of what people were nowhere near thinking at all.

Eventually I’ve learned it’s easier, faster, and less worrisome to ask people what they are thinking and then leave room for asking them why. And what my friends are thinking is always interesting, valuable, and worth hearing — much more than I might have imagined — and when I’m listening often the source of new thoughts of my own.

Thank you for all of the thinking that you do. The world needs it and I do too. Want a smarter, higher performing team? Want better relationships?
Keep thinking.
Keep asking people what their thinking.
Keep listening when they tell you.
It’s irresistible when you do.

Be irresistible.
–ME “Liz” Strauss

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