Friday, 4 April 2014

Quit being so negative!

Interacting with other people is all about perceptions. For better or worse, we can't see inside of other peoples' heads and have to infer what's inside of them based on their actions... and also on (get this) *our* past behaviour.

You thought it would be *their* past behaviour, yes? but actually unless you've known somebody a really long time - your perceptions of another person are more based on what you have done in the past, than on what they have.

It's way too easy to totally miss this point when it comes up in reality - because what you think another person is doing... just seems so obvious. Surely they're doing X, it's just obvious they are...

What you don't see are all the subconscious micro-decisions that got you to that point. What exactly did you base your observation on?

Could you be mis-interpreting something? Just because you (or your sister, your boyfriend or your old teacher back in high school) used to do X and that meant they thought Y - doesn't mean that this person you're talking to right now... thinks Y - even if they're quite clearly doing X.

This all stems from a bit of an example from my own life (I'm T):

P comes up to T and tells her all about a friend of his who's developing a new javascript library.
"it's gonna be awesome!" P enthuses.
"interesting," T says. "so what does it offer over jquery?"
"what do you mean?", P asks, looking taken aback.
"well, jquery is pretty bog-standard in the web-world right now. What does your friend's library do, that would make me choose to use it over jQuery?" T replies.
"why are you asking me that? It's a great library, it's going to be the best!", P asks

We'll stop here and see where everybody stands, because I know from later discussion that P is thinking that I'm not interested in hearing about this new project. He thinks that *I* think it's only worth doing a project if it's better than jQuery. Why else would I demand what this new project had to offer and whether or not it was worth pursuing? How dismissive of me!

Hang on a tick... what did I *actually* say?

None of the above, it turns out. From my perspective, I was curious about the project and wondering what it might have to offer.

It think it all hinges on what part we both assume the role of questions plays.

I assume that questions are to elicit information on something of interest.
P assumed that questions were a way of poking holes in an idea and dismissing it.

Both of these are assumptions based on our own past history of using questions.

Perhaps when P questions something it's because he has strong reservations about it, or because he's decided it's a bad idea and he wants to highlight all the flaws in it... but assuming that that's the reason why *another* person asks questions... will lead to very great misunderstandings.

No doubt there are downsides to my own assumption - obviously that other people will get the wrong idea about my reasons for doing so... perhaps thinking that I'm attacking their idea instead of finding out more about it.

The biggest part of the problem is that that these assumptions are pretty-much invisible to us. To us it just feels like "the way it is"... not "my perspective". it's only when we brush up against somebody else's different perspective that we even notice they're there at all (like two people with different-coloured sun-glasses finally swapping notes about the colour of objects they see).

I haven't got a solution to this problem yet... I'd be curious if any of you readers out there do. feel free to comment and let me know.

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