At the Nobel Peace Center, I saw this bit of writing on a wall: “I’m not racist. All I am is afraid.”
I loved it, because it speaks to something we all do. We assume that we understand what someone else is thinking. In self-esteem books, this is called “mind reading.”
Mind reading is when we project our thoughts of what someone else is thinking onto that someone else. This is what we do in relationships. This is what we do at events, when we’re thinking about whether or not we can introduce ourselves to someone new. Mind reading, almost always, is useless. It’s not helpful. It’s a bunch of fake emotions and thoughts (mostly our fears) that we project onto other people.
And yet, it’s what we do more often than not.
Avoid Mind Reading
The easiest way to avoid mind reading is to ask, or to dare to see if what you’re fearing is real. For instance, you can walk up to someone and say, “I’d love to introduce myself, if this is a good time.” That takes your worry away that the person might be thinking now isn’t a good time, because instead, you’ve given them the opportunity to say that maybe you can connect later. Make sense?
Another way to do it is to communicate more of your position so that the other person doesn’t try mind-reading you. Remember, you’re not the only one doing this. So, for instance, you might say, “I’m usually a bit quiet during negotiations, but please don’t let that silence seem like I’m upset. I’m actually quite excited about this opportunity.” See how that puts everything back in their hands?
It’s important to stay vigilant to mind reading. If not, you run the risk of answering on behalf of other people, and quite often in the negative. This translates to the online world as well. Perception is not reality. It’s not likely that what you’re presuming is actually true, especially if it’s the negative.
What Say You?
Have you done this? Have you tried reading other people’s minds and filling the silence with your own negative fears? How do you combat it? Where are you with this situation today?