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Walking a Mile in Someone Else's Shoes Can Get You Lost

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Quick Communication Tip

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Walking a Mile in Someone Else's Shoes
Can Get You Lost
(click for podcast version)


Most 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, perspectives.

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 a movie.
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 analysis).

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 eyes
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 head-on.

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


The 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 cream cone.

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 everyone.

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 web site, or better yet, contact me and see how we can design a program to fit your needs and desired outcomes.


Resource Links:

Conscious Communication - the podcast series
KG Stiles: "Conversations that Enlighten and Heal"
Ian Blei on Kind Ambition and the
Integram (TM)

Personal Life Media - "Coaching the Life Coach:"
Communication Excellence (Podcast Snippets)
Communication Excellence (full interview)

Interview Podcast for Evolutionary Radio w/ J. McClain

Kind Ambition -
2nd Edition now available

Got Blog? c
ome visit the Blog.

Character Driven - Ever want to create characters that were so believable, that people forgot they were characters?



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