Secrets to Catch Yourself Mind-Reading

Secrets to Catch Yourself Mind-Reading

The more remote we are, the easier it is for us to assume we know what other people think. I call that mind-reading.

I am not clairvoyant—not even with my husband. (We both would like a little clairvoyance, at times!) The more mind-reading we do, the more likely we will make the wrong assumptions. The more wrong assumptions and the less likely we can work together. We make a mess of our relationships and the work. Instead of a mess, here are three secrets I use to catch myself mind-reading.

Secret 1: Consider a generous interpretation.

I like asynchronous work to read and think, to prepare for a real-time discussion. Even as an extrovert, I prefer time to think and take notes, especially if I expect that discussion will challenge my current ideas.

And, we all make mistakes when we write or speak. I use the wrong words, such as “their” instead of “there.” I know what I want to write. I write it down wrong. (No, a spell checker doesn't catch this because I spelled it correctly.) When I read, especially if I'm in a hurry, I can get stuck on a “wrong” or nonsensical meaning.

If you, too, ever see this, consider a generous interpretation of the words. Sometimes, I ask, “Did you mean “there” instead?” Even better, When I ask, “Did you mean so-and-so?” I'm less likely to mind-read.

Secret 2: Listen for the actual words a person said or wrote.

I bet you've been a part of many online meetings where people had different bandwidth. That bandwidth can lead to frozen video and garbled audio. What people say and what you hear are two different things.

When people (including me) don't have sufficient bandwidth, I ask them to try these things:

  • Turn off video.
  • Type what they want to say in the chat.
  • Use the text backchannel, so we have more context.

One or more of those generally work. I can see and hear their words. I can ask clarifying questions and understand what they're thinking.

Once I know what people actually say or write, I can stick with the next idea, to stay in the here-and-now.

Secret 3: Stay in the here-and-now, not there-and-then.

When people work together over time, they learn to build collegial, useful working relationships. Except when they don't.

Long ago, I worked with John. Half the time, we had a great working relationship. The other half? We disagreed on everything.

We each gained more responsibility in that particular organization. I focused more on software and software programs. He focused more on hardware and hardware programs. Then, we had to work together on a program that integrated software and hardware.

One day, we had a loud and vigorous disagreement about something. (No, I can't remember the details.) One of the hardware engineers walked by and said, “John, stop litigating the decision from three years ago.”

I smiled, thinking I was oh, so perfect. Not so fast.

The engineer then said, “Johanna, stop litigating last year's decision.” Okay. That taught both of us.

We were so stuck in our previous disagreements (the there-and-then), we couldn't see the here-and-now. We had already decided what the other person would say. We both tried to mind-read the other. That didn't work at all.

We both thanked the engineer and settled down to a more reasonable discussion.

Clairvoyance Doesn't Work.

In general, I avoid mind-reading because it doesn't work. When I do—and I'm human, so I do—I catch myself with these three ideas. Do you mind-read every so often? How do you catch yourself? Let me know.

Learn with Johanna

Expect the next nonfiction writing workshop to open for registration late this year, with the class starting in February. This year's Q4 class has taught me a lot, so I need to change some of the lessons.

See Distributed Agile Success for all of my self-study classes with Mark Kilby based on our book, From Chaos to Successful Distributed Agile Teams: Collaborate to Deliver.

Take a look at Your Management Mentors for my self-study class with Esther Derby about Make the Most of Your One-on-Ones.

The Modern Management Made Easy books are in indexing, which means I'm finding more small changes. Wait to buy if you prefer to read finished books.

New to the Pragmatic Manager?

Are you new to the Pragmatic Manager newsletter? See previous issues.

Here are links you might find useful:

For my US readers: If you haven't voted yet, please do so when you can, before the polls close. Yeah, I know you keep hearing that. I won't ask you again, for another four years!

Till next time,


© 2020 Johanna Rothman

1 thought on “Secrets to Catch Yourself Mind-Reading”

  1. Pingback: How Can You Be the Best Version of Yourself? | Create An Adaptable Life

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: