You don’t know me…

Posted by Doc
Feb 14 2009

Okay – the song lyrics won’t get out of my head. I love that Michael Buble is singing all these “oldies”.

You give your hand to me
Then you say hello
I can hardly speak
My heart is beating so
And anyone can tell
You think you know me well
But you don’t know me

Relevance? Ah – well – I’ve mentioned that we all live in our own heads. Our understanding of the world, including the people in it, is all internal. So when I say “I know…” what I really mean is “I believe…”

There is no knowing, especially when it comes to others. The only things we can “know” are others’ behavior, because it’s the only thing we can see/experience directly. Even so, our experience/vision is colored and filtered by our own brains and our past experience, our current emotions, and so forth. There are times when my “reality” is entirely generated within my own head.

What does that mean? It means, first of all, that I must question all my assumptions about other people. Especially when I say things like “you were angry” or ” I know what you meant”. After all, I can’t really know these things, now can I?

Rather I can say “I think you were angry” or “I wonder if you were angry” or “Did you mean…?”

I’m back, once again, to the work of Patterson et al in Crucial Conversations. Because what I think I know is really my story – what I tell myself as a result of experiencing your behavior.

Lest you think I’m only talking about personal relationships, let me assure you once again that this applies to all relationships. It applies when I’m in meetings with people I hardly know (“What a jerk!”), when I’m having a conversation with a co-worker (“Why is she always…?”), or having coffee with a close friend (“He must be angry with me.”). All we know of each other is behavior – the observable stuff.

And what we think we know is really our perception of what happened.

I know that there have been many times when my wife and I have been in the same place at the same time, and remembered things differently. Everything from our first meeting (I say her outfit was mustard colored, she says it was greenish) to a conversation we had yesterday.

In police work, it’s ironic that so much weight is placed on eye witnesses, given the evidence that eye witnesses are incredibly unreliable. Consider the implications: all of us are unreliable when it comes to what we believe we saw or heard, and yet we generally remain convinced that we are right – that what we remember is reality, truth.

I’m with Descartes – the only thing I know for sure is that there is some entity doing the thinking (cogito ergo sum – I think, therefore I am). Everything else is subject to reasonable, rational doubt.

The next time you find yourself saying “Oh, I know her, and what she meant was…”, stop, think, and perhaps phrase it as a question or as a guess.

“I wonder if…”

“Do you think…”

“If it were me, I would mean…”

And then, ASK.

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