At least, they know what’s important to them. They know how you feel about them, and that’s what they really care about.
They may not know why you feel the way you do. They may not have the specifics. They certainly don’t know exactly what you want. And they may also misinterpret your emotional state if they have only just met you or if they are under a great deal of stress.
But if the person is your significant other, a close friend, a co-worker, or anyone that you spend a lot of time with, then yes, they can read your mind.
If you hate them, they know it. If you love being around them, they know. If you genuinely think you are smarter than them or superior to them, they know. If you are ashamed of them, they know.
And if you feel superior to them, ashamed of them, or if you resent them, no words that you can say are going to prevent them from resenting you right back. In fact, attempting to say nice things can easily backfire because they will hear the insincerity in your tone of voice and they will see deception in your eyes. Worse still, it’s unlikely that even your actions will genuinely change how they feel about you. At best, if you try to be kind or helpful, they may just decide to use you, resenting your aid all the while.
The issue is that we humans have evolved to be very good at determining the emotional states of other people through their body language. But we are not so good at knowing what and how much our own body language communicates. Unless you are autistic (like I am) you probably don’t need to take a class to understand other peoples’ body language. However, unless you are someone like a financial adviser (I am that too) who has had to learn to modify their own body language in order to be even minimally effective, you probably aren’t that great at understanding your own non-verbal communication.
It’s a weird truth, but most of us seem better at understanding other people than we are at understanding ourselves.
This problem is most obvious during conflicts. Recently I have witnessed several conflicts among my friends and acquaintances where I was asked either to help resolve the conflict, or to take sides in the conflict (never a good idea, by the way). In all cases something struck me. Every single person was absolutely spot-on in their interpretation of their opponent’s negative body language. They could tell when the other person was being dismissive, angry, arrogant, defensive, self-righteous, petty, condescending, contemptuous, stonewalling, etc.
Every single person was also totally unaware of when they themselves were being dismissive, angry, arrogant, defensive, self-righteous, and so on.
How can all these people be so good at reading other’s emotions, and so atrocious at being even minimally aware of their own? Well, I will leave the science of that question to someone smarter than myself to explain. For now, I merely would like to lay out an obvious reality that I wish I had not taken four decades to learn.
Other people can read my mind.
No, they can’t read the specifics. They don’t know what I want. (When counselors tell you to avoid mind-reading, this is what they mean.) They also might not necessarily, in every single instance, be able to tell the difference between when I am angry at them, versus when I am just angry. (And it is important to avoid the child’s mistake of thinking that the parents’ argument is the child’s fault.)
But in the long run, people know how I feel about them. They know what I believe about them. This goes for anyone I spend a lot of time with, and particularly for those closest to me.
And this suggests that if I want to change my relationships with other people, I literally need to change how I feel about them. I need to change what I believe about them.
How do I do that?
We will discuss that question in the next blog. But for now, I want to point out that it’s obvious how all this relates to spouses and significant others. It’s less obvious, but still true, that learning how to change your feelings towards others can help you get promotions, raises and recognition. It can help you get seated on a different plane when your flight gets canceled and the airline employee finally gets to deal with someone who likes her instead of yet another customer screaming at her. (Just think about how often this could help you.) It can help you deal with uncomfortable situations, preventing them from turning into dangerous situations. It can help you in any kind of negotiation. And this list could become endless.
If you can change how you feel about other people, those other people can change your life. In the next blog, we will discuss clear, effective strategies that you can use when you want to change your own feelings towards (and beliefs about) other people.