Todd thinks he knows what others are thinking and feeling, so he puts words in people’s mouths. He says, “you think …” or “you feel”. Most of the time he is simply assuming and speaking his own mind, not the others’. Sometimes it matters little, and sometimes it matters a lot. Todd doesn’t care so long as it advances his story.
Vince frequently finds himself correcting Todd, cleaning up messes and setting the record straight. It has become a sticking point with Vince as he feels Todd represents him in a false, and less than flattering, light. The conflict between the two continues to increase over this.
Assuming Changes The Agenda
Any time we interact with another, we filter the event through our experiences looking for a way to make meaning or it. This is a common psychological theory known as Rational Emotive Theory (RET for short, sometimes known as Rational Emotive Behavior Theory or REBT).
A simplified explanation following the RET formula: Todd and Vince (above) have an interaction. Todd does or says something. With Todd’s words in mind, Vince filters meaning based on his beliefs and concerns. If Vince rewords Todd’s message in this step, he runs the risk of changing the intent. Todd’s words are Todd’s, and until Vince verifies the accuracy of the wording change with Todd, Vince assumes he understands what Todd said. Failing to verify accuracy, Vince then opens the door to unintended consequences. Vince’s story now becomes the subject of discussion in place of Todd’s.
The unintended consequences can range from minor to major. They have been known to “merely” cost time and effort to unravel, and also to dismantle trust and break relationships. Regardless of the severity, it takes time and effort to clean up the misunderstanding.
Instead Of Assuming, Validate
Before changing someone’s words, any listener benefits when asking if the change maintains the original intent. Paraphrasing in this way deepens understanding. It also has the potential to save a lot of time, trouble and bad feelings.
All parties to an interaction have a duty to ensure they understand the meaning and intent. The originator starts this by speaking clearly. The others then paraphrase until all are in agreement. It doesn’t take much time to do this. It certainly takes much less time than finding and cleaning up a misunderstanding. In addition to building understanding, it builds trust and relationship.