On my short list of things I wish everyone would consider when they speak is this one: You don’t know what you think you know about anything, when it comes to what motivated another to do or say something.
One of the greatest sources of division in our society stems from people thinking they know why another person said or did something. For example, in the world of politics, it is not at all uncommon for a Democrat to tell you that a Republican does this or that, “because they hate blacks/immigrants/gays/women/transgenders/children/etc.”
It’s not enough to just say a Republican said or did something you disagree with, and here’s why. The assertion becomes an accusation by assigning an unspoken motive to it that is probably almost always untrue. (Of course, Republicans have no awareness of this tactic and are almost always unprepared to address it.)
The problem is, the accuser has no idea why someone really did or said what they did. I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life coaching children in various sports… sometimes competitive. When you make a decision, as a coach, for a team, you do it based on days and weeks of observing and running practices, what you know about the other team, and countless other factors.
But when parents or kids judge you, they believe they know, with great certainty, why you did what you did. Or, conversely, they assume you’re stupid because of all the things they think you didn’t consider.
I’m always impressed when they make assertions that are completely untrue because they don’t have the context you do about the team, the team’s goals, or what you were really trying to accomplish at any one time.
This condition applies just as much to personal relationships as it does to politics and leadership. It’s not at all uncommon for people to tell people something you did and then add on what your motivation was when it turns out they’re entirely wrong.
If I could get people to consider if they do this, or how often, and try to stop doing it, I think we could remove a lot of the assumptions we make about each other and start paving a path toward better and more trusting relationships without the arguments, distrust, and dislike that comes along with those assumptions.
If someone did or said something you don’t like, address it for what it is. Don’t try and make it personal. Just give your honest and unemotional feedback, without trying to guess why that horrible person could have done or said something so obviously horrible.