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Don’t Assume You Know What I’m Thinking: Three Golden Rules

As you’ll have gathered by now, I love change and look constantly for new things to learn or do.  As a result I read voraciously, but it’s extremely rare for me to read the same book twice, unless I feel there’s something significantly different to be learned each time.  And to be blunt there aren’t many books where I feel that’s the case.  One author that keeps me coming back for more is Serge Kahili King, who writes on Huna, the Polynesian philosophy and practice of effective living, and on the spirit of Aloha, the attitude of love and peace for which the Hawaiian Islands are so famous.  Now I know this is off my usual NLP track, but I think you’ll see below that there’s a certain philosophical similarity….

The book I revisited recently was Urban Shamen, in which Serge discusses three rules or assumptions that cause a great deal of personal and global grief – assuming you know what someone else is thinking; assuming other people know, or should know, what you’re thinking; and making generalizations that dump thousands of people in the same negative box.  So these simple assumptions got me thinking – what can we learn from them and how can we use them positively instead?

Don’t assume you know what another person is thinking.

It doesn’t matter how well you think you know a person, you can never be sure that you know exactly what they’re thinking.  You may guess well and you may unconsciously pick up messages via their non-verbal communication (tone of voice, body language etc.), but you don’t “know”.  By assuming you do, you’re likely to cause crossed wires in your communication and to limit your possibilities.  It does no harm to ask – what are you thinking?  In fact what can you lose, except to lose by not asking?  If you do ask, you’re sure to gain valuable information from the horse’s mouth.

I’m in sales and one of my biggest challenges is to maintain the assumption that I don’t know what my customers are thinking.  It’s so easy to slip and to assume that just because you’ve known someone a long time, or because you have many years experience in the industry, that you know what your customer is thinking.  It could be you think you know why or for what purpose they want something, it could be their opinion on your services, what they need from you on a proposal, what’s important to them in a certain situation, or perhaps you even think you know their biggest concern.

Don’t assume that other people know, or should know, what you’re thinking.

Well if you assume that you don’t know what someone else is thinking, then how can you assume anyone else has psychic abilities to know what you’re thinking?  Do you even always know what you are thinking?  How often have you been disappointed, annoyed, frustrated or plain angry because someone else should have known what you were thinking, when you actually hadn’t opened your mouth and told them?  Was that a useful waste of energy? 

It’s Valentine’s Day in just few days.  Now let’s be honest here – how many of you ladies out there (and gentlemen for that matter) are busy keeping your mouth shut and assuming that your partner should know that you would like to receive flowers on that day, or be pampered at a spa, or be taken out to dinner, or even none of the above as you think it’s just commercial hype?  Does thinking that and not saying it out loud to your partner increase the chances that your wishes will come true?  I’m thinking……probably not.  So why not just tell them?  I’m sure your partner is a wonderful person, but mind reading isn’t a skill that most people are born with.

Beware of generalization.

So on to the last rule.  Whether we admit it or not we are all very capable of making sweeping generalizations.   In sales one of the most common is that a sales person calls and is rejected by one potential new client and so they automatically assume that all other new clients they call will also reject them.   Just because one person does something you like or dislike, does that mean that everyone you put in the same category will do the exact same thing?  If one man stands you up on a blind date does it mean that every man will do the same thing?  Or if a person does something you don’t like do you assume that individual will repeat that behavior in all future similar situations?  So perhaps your husband forgot your wedding anniversary last year, so is it reasonable to assume he’ll forget every other future anniversary? 

When we make generalizations we blind ourselves to the possibility that an individual will behave differently in the future when compared to how they have acted in the past.  Or alternatively they may behave differently when compared to other people in their “group” – be that related to their sex, religion or some other generalization.  Next time you hear yourself make a generalization – my husband never remembers my birthday or men never know what women want – think again and ask yourself if it’s constructive or even reasonable. 

So take these three rules and try them out for a day at a time and see what great things happen – when you don’t assume you know what someone else is thinking – when you don’t assume that someone else knows, or should know, what you’re thinking – and see just how many generalizations you can avoid.

© Jacqui Gatehouse and NLP THIRTEEN, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jacqui Gatehouse and NLP THIRTEEN with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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