Larsen is a Senior Mediator at the Center for the Resolution of Disputes. She is the Co-Founder of Beyond Civility.
How often do we just assume another shares our point of view, only to learn how wrong we were? Why does it natter?
If communicating well is the heart of a good relationship and our perceptions about how others are thinking or feeling is “off” and we don’t know it, we’re starting that slide into misunderstanding, away from a good connection.
An almost comical example comes to mind. In 2000, my husband and I sold the home in which we had lived for over 40 years as Len had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and was finding climbing stairs arduous.
Our good fortune was to find a sunny apartment with a river view. Lighthearted to be leaving the responsibility of home ownership behind, we were unencumbered, but for our cat, Eleanor. Hers was the major adjustment, from outdoor wanderer, to being limited by apartment walls and a small balcony.
When our first visitors asked how we enjoyed our new home, I readily answered for both of us, that it was all quite wonderful. Then Eleanor padded into the room and they asked how she was adjusting to being an indoor cat.
“She loves it”, I said.
”She hates it” Len offered on the heels of my comment. ”She feels trapped and confined.”
We were both projecting onto our inscrutable cat how each of us was actually feeling. My delight was in no way matched by Len’s unspoken despair as his world narrowed.
I should have asked, instead of assuming my reality matched his.
Now an important conversation could begin.