Jun 142015 2 Responses

The Most Common Mistake I Make

We trust ourselves. If I had to narrow down the most common mistake every person makes, it would be this–we blindly trust what we think occurred without any thought that we might be wrong. We know what we saw. We believe what we heard. The thought never crosses our minds that we only saw the situation from one angle. We never consider that we might have heard wrong.

Humanity has a tremendous capability to process a lot of information in a short period of time. With an unbelievable accuracy, we decipher information and rightly determine what is happening around us. While the accuracy is amazing, we are not as accurate as we think we are. Far more often than we realize, we do not see what happened or we do not hear what was actually said. (See: Why Others Don’t Trust You)

On a weekly basis, people give me the privilege of speaking into their lives through both articles and speeches. I consider this a great privilege. Yet on a weekly basis I find myself saying, “Go back and read the article. I didn’t write what you claim that I wrote” or “Go back and watch the speech. I didn’t say what you claim I said.”

With great confidence people confront an idea, never realizing I do not hold the opinion they believe I hold. While it is always fair (and sometimes fun) to debate a topic, it is neither fair nor fun when people assume you believe something you do not.

The most common mistake they make is the most common mistake I make–we trust ourselves too much. We fail to realize how often we get things wrong and this failure gives us a boldness we should rarely have.

The consequences of our confidence is all around us. Most conflict is not birthed from a difference of opinion or wrongdoing. Most conflict is caused by miscommunication. In marriage, at work, or with friends, a majority of the time when we are angry, we are wrongly angry. (See: You Hurt My Feelings)

Clearly there are times in which anger is justified and useful. Yet most of the time someone is angry with me, it isn’t justified. As a leader, I often meet with people who are upset with me. My common start to tense conversations is to smile and say, “Now what am I being accused of?” It’s a lighthearted approach with a serious point. I want to hear specifically what the person is upset about and why they are upset. Not every time, but on most occasions, I either haven’t done what they think I have done or I did not have the evil intention which they assumed I had. It’s almost always a miscommunication.

Of course on occasion, it isn’t. In some circumstances I have acted poorly, made a bad choice, or (most often) wrongly acted on my own confidence which I should not have had. Either way, whether their confidence or mine, most conflict I experience is from miscommunication.

This is great news. If most conflict is born of miscommunication that means we can easily solve most conflict. We can’t guarantee the same opinion or viewpoint, but we can ease the tension of differences and find common ground.

Here are two steps to prevent most conflicts:

1. Verify (define the ‘what’). Always assume you might have misunderstood, misheard, or didn’t see everything that happened. When you are upset with someone, verify what actually took place. Without malice or blame, have a conversation with the person to get their side of the story. Ask fair questions and listen to their answers. (See: The Anatomy of a Rumor)

Ask the other person, from your perspective:

  • What happened?
  • What did you see?
  • What did you say?
  • What did you hear?

This define the “facts.” It clarifies “what” actually happened. Until we clarify the “what,” we cannot have a reasonable conversation about any disagreement.

2. Clarify (define the ‘why’). The “what” is important, but it’s not the whole story. Just as many conflicts occur over the “why” as the “what.” To find common ground, we must also clarify the intentions of those involved. This also occurs best with fair questions, honestly asked. (See: Debate the Best)

Ask the other person:

  • Why did you choose what you chose?
  • Why do you think this situation occurred?
  • Why do you think we disagree?
  • What did you hope would happen?
  • Did you desire the outcome that occurred?

By asking questions of intent, we can determine the heart of the other person. Maybe we agree on the facts, but we have wrongly judged the other person’s intentions. As a leader, I often have to tell others, “I might be dead wrong about the decision I made, but even if I’m wrong, we must agree that we have the same intention. We both want what is best, we just disagree on how to make that happen.”

Whenever we verify and clarify we are honoring the other person and respecting their humanity. We are giving them room to explain themselves and to be understood. We are providing a climate in which they can admit wrong if they so desire or we can confess that we have incorrectly judged a situation or person. We are being fair.

Whenever we fail to verify or clarify, we are disrespecting everyone else involved. We are wrongly elevating our ability to judge every aspect of the situation. We are devaluing the thoughts, opinions, and experiences of others, determining that they are not worthy of a voice. We are saying our judgment is the only one that matters.

The most common mistake I make is to assume that what I heard is what was said; that what I saw is what actually happened; that what I believe someone intends is actually what they intend. It’s a dangerous assumption and one which causes most of the conflict in my life. Thankfully, when I verify and clarify, my judgment is given better information and context. (See: Top 10 Communication Posts Your Co-Workers Should Read)

Don’t trust yourself as much as you are tempted to do.


2 Responses to The Most Common Mistake I Make
  1. […] Some see it. They don’t like it, try to stay free from it, but occasionally fall for the very ... https://www.kevinathompson.com/the-facebook-cycle-of-hate
  2. […] 2. I can be misunderstood. Someone can unintentionally fail to comprehend my point, or intention... https://www.kevinathompson.com/if-this-offends-you-im-not-sorry

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