I thought about this when I sat drinking coffee with a bunch of colleagues. I watched them and marvelled at their differences. I tried to guess what their behaviour meant.
Jane was talkative and nervous as a kitten. She laughed often and fiddled with her hair. Was she anxious and upset? Or was she excited about something so good she couldn’t wait to tell us?
Laura sat back and spoke rarely. Every comment was appropriate, and each one seemed to put a full stop to the discussion. Was she bored, or was she taking in everything she heard? Was she shy, or does she just prefer not to talk much?
Helen kept trying to pull the conversation back to the original topic. “Yes, but that’s not the point,” she said three times. Is she a control freak, or did she really want an answer to a question that mattered to her? Was it frustrating to her that we wouldn’t take her seriously?
Sarah said, “I’m sorry, am I talking too much?” the second time she spoke. Was she anxious that people won’t like her, and think her pushy, or was she passive-aggressively pointing out that others were dominating the conversation?
Imogen tapped the table with a pen, as though she couldn’t wait to be somewhere else. Was Imogen anxious and worried about something, or did she just have a tune running through her head?
The way we communicate with each other is so subtle, so full of richness and difference, and we give off constant signals about our personalities and our state of mind. Every one of us behaves differently from every one else.
So, beware of ‘mind-reading’. Most signals can mean more than one thing.
There is always more than one way to read another’s behaviour. Maybe we should hold back our criticisms of each other and look for other reasons when we see behaviour we don’t find appealing.
Often, the key to understanding can be simply finding out a little more about someone. When we’re in a group, we behave in a ‘public’ way. Before we next meet for coffee, I plan to spend a few minutes alone with at least one of my colleagues. If I want to understand her behaviour, I need to build some rapport with her, and find out what makes her tick. Maybe even start to see the world from her point of view and stop trying to read her mind.
I hope you enjoyed this post. Have you ever found someone’s behaviour difficult to understand? Do you sometimes get it wrong because you don’t know as much as you thought about someone? Do some people drive you mad, but you can’t put your finger on the reason? Let me know. I’d love to hear your experiences.