I recently met with three people who work together in the same department of their company.
I had been asked by a senior manager to try and identify why there was so much dissension in their ranks.
Shortly after the discussion began one of these folks made a rather disparaging comment about a supervisor. His comment was immediately supported by the other two and the next few minutes were spent reciting one example after the next of this supervisor’s errant behavior.
And then the inevitable comment was made. Having spent two or three minutes trashing her, one of the three knowingly proclaimed, “She does this deliberately just to make our lives miserable.”
By inevitable, I mean that it is extremely common practice for many folks, once they have angrily described the egregious behavior of others, to assign motive for this behavior.
And the motive is always described with such strong conviction that there can be no doubt as to its correctness.
And once the motive is known it adds great credence to the complaints of the behavior.
And herein lies the problem.
See, once we are certain of a person’s motive for doing something, it becomes very easy to accept that they are guilty of all the unacceptable behaviors they are accused of delivering.
The problem, of course, is the delusional certainty that many of us carry in our heads of our ability to read the minds of others.
Rarely, once we have attributed motive to the behavior of another, do we pause to consider the possibility that we may be absolutely wrong.
We’re a strange lot, we humans. We actually convince ourselves that everything we believe to be true is factual and proceed as if that were the case.
Seldom do we attribute motive to a person’s behavior and then pause to question or reflect on the fact that all we have done is express an opinion.
And we forget that an opinion is just that – it is simply what we believe to be true – and may, quite possibly, be wrong.
I am fascinated by people who do this – who assign a motive and reason for the behavior of others and are absolutely satisfied that they are correct.
To me, it reflects a sad limitation on their ability to process information clearly, as none of us, not even the brightest, have any ability to read the mind, or know what is in the heart of anyone other than ourselves.
In dealing with conflicts, like those of the three folks I was meeting with, the only possible hope of resolution is to address the measurable, describable behavior of the supervisor in terms that do not include judgment of any kind.
The supervisor can acknowledge, or deny, the behavior, and agree or disagree to do things differently in the future, but – and this is a big stretch for many people – that same supervisor is in no way responsible for how others feel about her behavior.
Whenever we assign motive or reason to the behavior of others, we view all past and future behaviors by that person through a distorted lens which disallows us any opportunity of viewing their behavior in any way that does not support that motive.
So the next time you’re about to convince yourself that you know what someone else is thinking, or why they’re doing what they’re doing, just remember this; You Don’t.
Till we read again.
P.S. My book Life Sinks or Soars – the Choice is Yours has its very own website. Please visit us at www.lifesinksorsoars.com and let me know what you think.
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