Can Others Really Read Your Mind?


When you are a high performer and working in a fast-paced environment, it's easy to fall into the trap of "moving too fast." Because you have already thought through the issue at hand and the best way to address it, you might inadvertently leave out some important information in your communication - because YOU KNOW what you mean and how you got there. But the person on the receiving end may need clarification about your conclusion, assumptions and supporting data. They can't read your mind. Let me give you a really simple example. The other day I coached someone through her frustration about her relationship with her board. She couldn't understand why her board wouldn't step up to help her with fundraising. Her board chair explained what he needed from her to give her more support, and she responded by saying she needed something else. So, her board chair left with the distinct impression that she disagreed with his request, when in fact she agreed with most of what he asked for. However, she never said she agreed with him. Instead, she skipped over that important statement because she knew what she was thinking - and quickly moved on to her own ideas.

Had she said, "I agree and to build on that, I also think we need....," it would have shifted the entire interaction. This broken pattern of communication had been playing out between the two of them time and again, leaving both of them frustrated.

I am also working with another talented leader whose good intentions are often misunderstood. His team observes his actions, and draws their own conclusions about what they think his actions demonstrate. When I interviewed his direct reports to get feedback about his effectiveness as a leader, the gap between what he intends and what they take away from his actions became crystal clear.

So, what should you do to remove mind-reading from the equation? Here are three tips to get you started:

1. Remember that each person has their own filter

People typically filter through information and draw conclusions based on their life experiences and their relationship with you. So, take time to think about the other person's perspective and they might interpret your actions, especially if they have a strong opinion about you. Often, people are evaluating each of your actions against their hypotheses or conclusions - to validate what they believe.

2. Notice people's reactions

Notice how your actions and words are "landing" on others. Pay attention to their body language, tone of voice, energy level, and other reactions. What did they say in response? Really listen, instead of focusing on how you will respond. You may start to notice patterns and clues about how they interpreted your actions.

3. Be more transparent

Think about the one or two things you want others to know, to put your specific action, decision or behavior in the right context. Be careful not to get into too much detail, so they can hear your key messages or headlines. Remember that just because YOU KNOW what you are talking about and what you mean, it doesn't mean that others will!!

By making slight tweaks to make your thoughts and intentions more transparent, you can vastly improve communications and relationships...and we can all get out of the business of mind-reading.