Conscious Communication: bringing communication
up from "auto-pilot" and reactive, to thoughtful, responsive, and above
in the background while you file, exercise, ride to work, etc.
Quick Communication Tip
Walking a Mile in Someone Else's Shoes
Can Get You Lost
of us have been taught that in order to have compassion for someone, or
understand their actions, we need to walk a mile in their shoes. Then
we’d understand why they do what they do or say what they say. Actually,
that’s not altogether true.
We go into situations with our own beliefs, values, and perspectives,
whether those situations are ours or someone else’s. Stepping into their
situation (walking in their shoes) with our own beliefs, values, and
perspectives, is in no way having the same experience as they would
have. We’re not only fooling ourselves, but probably going down the
wrong road as well.
We need to get to the real outcome that this proverbial advice is after:
understanding where the other person is coming from. This is more
accurately described by their beliefs, values, and most importantly,
The way we see the world, and process incoming stimuli, directs our
experience. Rather than walking a mile in your shoes, if I could sit for
a few minutes looking at the world through your eyes, I would have a far
clearer, and more accurate picture of what you see.
Once you get to know someone well, this process is not too much of a
stretch, but most of our daily interactions don’t foster that kind of
“getting to know you.” So how can we short-cut this process, allowing us
to have more under-standing and compassion for those around us? (Side
benefit: not getting ourselves overwrought dealing with them).
1. A projection is only part of
That whole “walking a mile in your shoes” concept is basically about
making a projection, which we only do when we don’t know or understand
someone else’s experience. We take our own experience and plug it into
the blank space of our not knowing. Since we do different things for the
same reasons and the same things for different reasons, we can’t make
that kind of assumption. There’s no substitute for finding out what
someone’s true motivations are.
Be a bit skeptical with yourself. If you feel that you know someone’s
experience, but haven’t checked in with them about it, that’s the time
to put yourself in their place. How would you feel if someone made that
leap about you? You’d want them to check in, right? Go for it. Ask
what’s going on inside for them (their direct experience; without
2. Listen for cues.
We give more information than we might realize when we talk. Our
perspective has a huge influence on our word choice. Does the person
you’re trying to understand say they “think” things, or do they “feel”
them, or do they simply “know” them? Are they experiencing through their
analytical, or their gut instincts? Are they angry about something that
has nothing to do with you, but feels aimed at you? Are they re-enacting
a situation for you, rather than merely describing it?
All of these cues let you in on the other person’s internal experience,
when you’re clear enough to keep your own out of it. Remember however,
that these are only hypotheses on your part until you check in with the
other person and ask questions. The more you keep the focus on their
experience, the more likely you are to actually “get” it.
3. Try to see through their
The more you can understand about how someone got to where they are
today, the more you can understand how they see things. The less stable
our childhood, the more likely we are to take very active positions
later on; trying to control, contain or manage situations. The more
someone had to cope with a “larger than life” family member, the more
likely they are to duck being the center of attention, or avoid conflict
Growing up in a big, noisy family often gives a person a gleefully
confrontational style. If you had grown up in the situation they did,
how would you see things?
Finding out these kinds of things about people is not prying; it’s
learning who they are, which in turn enables you to hear and see them
more clearly. This cuts through most of the misunderstandings we deal
with on a daily basis, and gives us the ability to connect with others
on a much more real level. Without our own projected perspectives
clouding our ability to see each other, conflict dissolves into
curiosity, and we can reach that goal “walking a mile in their shoes”
offered us in the first place.
Quick Communication Tip
Pause That Refreshes
We start out with very little
information to work with when we're little kids. Our view of the
world is primarily about what is happening around us, and affecting us.
We are in the middle of our little solar system. When we try to
understand others, we use the only information we have at that time: our
own thoughts and feelings. Of course the Mailman wants an ice
As we get older, we interface with more and more people, and begin our
socialization process. We move from the I, Me, Mine world to the
Us, We world (hopefully, but that's another story). This means we
deal with more and more different perspectives, and our relationship to
accepting, rejecting, or judging them, becomes our relationship to
Take a moment to pull your own "way of doing things" out of the mix for
a moment. Give the other person's ideas a chance to settle in.
See if you can understand why they would think or say that, rather than
judging them by your own ways. This is the key to smooth
interactions with everyone.
Want to learn more about how your communication can hold you back or
catapult you forward? Come visit the
or better yet,
contact me and see how we can design a program to fit your needs and desired outcomes.
- the podcast series
KG Stiles: "Conversations that Enlighten and Heal"
Ian Blei on Kind Ambition and the
Personal Life Media -
"Coaching the Life Coach:"
Communication Excellence (full interview)
for Evolutionary Radio w/ J. McClain
2nd Edition now available
visit the Blog.
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