Not only are the assumptions usually wrong, mind-reading doesn’t make people want to openly share their deepest thoughts. It often doesn’t make them want to spend time with you either. Instead, it feels intrusive to be told what they’re thinking. They feel annoyed and defensive.
When you allow fear and insecurity to dominate your personality, you’re likely to scare people away—not a good way to promote dialogue. While part of you may feel worried and insecure, there’s probably another part of you that wants to have an honest dialogue and is hopeful and curious about what the truth might be. Although it is important to share your vulnerabilities with people you’re close to, it’s best not to let insecurity take over with accusatory mind-reading.
When you project your fears onto another person, those fears are more likely to become realized – a self-fulfilling prophecy! If you repeatedly proclaim your worry that another person doesn’t like spending time with you, you create the very situation you fear, because you become less enjoyable to spend time with. Our perceptions have a tendency to materialize.
Mind-reading assumes that you have all the information, which is rarely the case. To have a real dialogue, you need to focus on the other person and find out where they are coming from. Only when the goal is to gain understanding and not to assign blame can you find out what’s really going on.
To get truthful, relevant information, you have to engage others so that they won’t get defensive. Otherwise they’ll attack back, withdraw, or twist the truth to avoid your negative judgments. You have to ask questions in a way to get them to talk openly. This requires being able to actively listen without being reactive.
If you lose your connection, the other person is likely to go into a protective mode, which puts a stop to openness. You need to keep a connection to convey your desire to be understanding. To avoid implying blame or self-pity, it helps to use a tone of voice that implies honest curiosity.
The best way to get information is to ask open-ended questions that get the other person to describe his or her side of the story. Avoid leading questions, such as, “You’d rather work than spend time with me, right?”
Avoid “yes or no” prosecuting-attorney-type questions, such as, “Just answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’—did you even think about calling me?” Even police investigators have moved from methods of cross-examination to open-ended questioning.
Open-ended questions include where, who, how, what happened. Beware of “But why did you do that?” because it sounds accusatory. When people feel blamed, they’re likely to skew the information to boost their self-esteem and avoid incrimination. It’s better to ask how something happened, followed by, “what happened then?”
We are more likely to discover the motivation of the other person when we use compassionate curiosity rather than aggressive interrogation. Also, we are likely to find that others’ actions usually don’t stem from intent to harm us.
From a position of compassionate understanding, we can then continue the dialogue and express our own desires or intent to change the situation.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD