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I am a very poor mind reader.
I do it a lot. I’m just not very good at it.

I think it is pretty safe to say, that you are in the same boat as me. You send an email, and a reply doesn’t come when you expect it, so your brain begins painting a picture. “Here is why that person didn’t get back to you.” And most times, we don’t paint a very pretty picture.

Someone has an “expression,” or a “look” and we begin to filter our entire relationship with them through our understanding of what that “look” communicated to us.

We all do it, despite the fact that our experience tells us that we are wrong far more often than we are right.

A little over a year ago, about 14 of us at the Ithaca Vineyard were able to beta test Emotionally Healthy Skills by Pete & Gerry Scazzero. It was a great experience, and I’d highly recommend the class.

I bring that up because one of the sections is called “Stop Mind Reading and Clarify Expectations.”  Say you have an interaction with another person. For whatever reason you believe the other person is upset, or angry with you about something. (You’ll get a much better explanation when you go through the course.)

Our normal M.O. is to treat the person accordingly. We ignore…we get angry back…play the whole passive-aggressive game.

The mind-reading exercise is instead of all of that, simply talking to the other person and saying “I think you think x, y & z, and that are upset at me because of it.”

If there’s nothing to it, it gives the other person the opportunity to say so. “Oh, I was thinking about something going on at work that has been stressing me out, and it had nothing to do to you.”

Or, they might say, yeah, “I am upset about that.” But even if that is the case, it is now out in the open where you can talk it through…apologize….forgive…etc.

Both are far better outcomes than what happens when we simply play it out over and over in our heads.

I bring this up today because I had a minor epiphany earlier today about conversations.

While there are various types of conversations that we have with those close to us, I want to focus on 3 of them:

1) Problem Solving: There is something going on and I need your help in figuring out what to do.

2) Pondering: Basically, these are big things I’m thinking about, wrestling with. Say I’m thinking about character issues, and see an area that is not where I’d like it to be. I’m not looking for easy answers.

3) Venting: I’m upset and I need to talk about my frustration with someone. I’m not upset with you, but I am quite emotional about this and it will come through. I just need you to listen.

Again, we could come up with all kinds of various categories, but I chose these three because usually there is generally some emotion tied in with them, and they generally feel very personal.

Here’s my point…Since most of us can admit we are bad at mind reading, what are the chances someone starts a conversation with us, and we misunderstand what type of conversation we are having?

You’ve been wrestling with something…perhaps you’ve gotten some very personal insight into who you are…perhaps maybe not even a very pretty picture. You’re hoping that I’ll help you dig a bit more.

“How does it make you feel when you see that?”
“That must be difficult.”
Or even just, “Tell me more.”

But instead, I think you are wanting to problem-solve.

“Hey, I know a guy who was dealing with the same things, here’s what he did.”
“Have you tried…”

Since I misread the purpose of our conversation and thought you wanted to problem-solve, I think I’ve helped you. You however feel frustrated…perhaps devalued. You feel like the other didn’t even listen to you.

But at the same time, you never clarified to the other person what you wanted the conversation to look like. You expected them to read your mind.

And so rather than an opportunity to deepen our relationship, damage has been done damage to it.

I’m guessing I’m not the only one who has been on both sides of those conversations.

So here is my minor epiphany…what if when I was about to have one of these conversations…I let the other person know what type of conversation I was looking for?

Or if someone starts a conversation with me, rather than trying to guess what they were looking for, I just asked them?

That’s what I’ve been pondering today…any thoughts?

About author / bob

I am a church planter living on Dublin's Northside. I also serve as Director of Marketing for Communitas International. I write about various topics that happen to be going through my brain.

Reading Your Mind

time to read: 3 min