A few weeks ago, I was standing in an airport waiting for my return flight to Indianapolis when I overheard a woman (“Mary”)* complaining about a flight attendant's (“Sue's”) behavior on a previous flight. At the time, I was trying not to overhear Mary, but her emotional investment and volume were too high to ignore.
As Mary spoke about Sue's behavior, she said something like this: “Sue did it on purpose just to irritate me.”
I remember thinking: “Maybe she did. Maybe she didn't.”
I was not on the flight in question, and I did not personally observe the interaction between the two people. So, I don't know exactly what transpired between them. I only know that Mary believed/perceived that Sue had behaved in a particular way with the express intent of irritating her. Based on Mary's further description of the events, I also know that her behaviors towards Sue:
- Came from her belief that Mary had intentionally irritated her, and
- Served to escalate the conflict between them.
From what I could hear of the conversation, Mary never asked Sue about her thoughts, feelings, or intentions. Mary simply made some quick assumptions about Sue and then launched a tirade against her that significantly escalated the conflict.
Mary believed certain things about Sue. She did not know these things. Sadly, she acted on her belief without confirming it in any way. She just got angry and attacked (verbally in this case).
Later, as I sat on the flight and reflected on what I had heard, I recall thinking:
You never know another person's intentions until you ask.
The point of this blog is to learn how to get over yourself and to get out of your own way when it comes to interacting, building relationships. leading, and communication with others.
My personal approach to the challenge of quickly judging other's intentions is to keep an attitude of curiosity. For example, rather than assuming someone intentionally did something to irritate me, I work to ask myself a question like:
- “I wonder if they meant that the way I heard it?” or
- “I wonder what they see in this situation that I am missing?”
I'm far from perfect at avoiding the tendency to make wrong conclusions about others. So, I'm asking for your input:
What tips/techniques/suggestions have you used to better understand others and their intentions?
Please leave your responses in the comments section below. (If you see this post at some other site like facebook, please come on over to my blog to leave your comment.)
*Mary and Sue are totally fictitious names. While the event is real, I do not know, nor would I share if I knew, the real names of the parties involved.