In order to accurately understand what other people think, believe, or know, one must find out the answer directly from them… Because we project our own knowledge and feelings onto others, we are overconfident and believe we know what they think.Woo-Kyung Ahn
I assumed I am empathetic because I am good at perspective-taking. Now, I know what to do instead.
You don’t have to attend Yale University to take Woo-Kyung Ahn‘s popular course in Thinking. Thankfully, you can do what I did and read this cognitive psychologist’s book, Thinking 101: How to Reason Better to Live Better.
In her book, she explains how our reasoning is biased and what to do to counteract these biases. Each of the 8 chapters is devoted to a different “thinking problem.”
Of the 8, I found the 7th chapter on perspective-taking most relevant to me. As a coach, I pride myself on being good at understanding others. My training requires that I not assume but ask. And, during coaching sessions, I ask a lot of questions and verify what I heard from my client.
In personal relationships, however, I get into arguments with my husband and daughters more often than I would like. I realize now I am guilty of relying heavily on perspective-taking.
3 Dangers of perspective-taking
First, we assume others take our perspective.
Whenever we perceive something, we interpret it in the light of what we already know. Because we do that automatically and unconsciously, we may believe that everyone else including even a person who doesn’t know what we know, would see the situation similarly ily to the way we do.
Second, we forget to take others’ perspectives into consideration.
Often our communication failures occur simply because we neglect to consider the other person’s perspective.
Third, and perhaps most important, is that we’re not very good at perspective-taking, even when we are prompted to do so.
A team of three researchers demonstrated through twenty-four experiments that our ability to understand what others are thinking or feeling cannot be improved merely by perspective-taking.
What to do instead
As the main quote suggests, we need to ask what people are thinking and feeling.
And, instead of assuming that others can “get” what we’re feeling and thinking, we need to simply tell them.
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