Can You Read My Mind?

Today, I’d like to share a story from the early days of my career. It’s the story of a dedicated manager, a clueless employee, and the complete failure of telepathic communication.

It’s the middle of a long afternoon. I’m thinking about going for a tea break when my manager storms into the room. She is visibly upset, and launches into an explanation of a crisis that one of our clients is having. I listen intently. While she is talking, my mind is churning. I am figuring out what I need to do to handle the problem. Just as I’ve solved it, my boss suddenly yells at me: “You’re not taking this seriously!”

All I can do is stare at her. Can’t she see that this problem is all I’m thinking about? While I am still in shock, she tells me to take care of it and stomps off. I don’t get a chance to explain. The thought there goes my performance rating drifts through my mind.

I learned an important lesson that day: People cannot read your mind.

(Aliens are a different story. Imagine if your manager was Martian Manhunter from the Justice League. Hmm, maybe not a good idea.)

Martian Manhunter

Reveal your secrets to me…

The moral of the story? Since people can’t read your mind, you need to rely on what they can read:

  • Your words, which tell them what you are thinking.
  • Your expressions, which show them what you are feeling.
  • Your actions, which prove to them who you really are.

What could I have done differently in this situation?

Words

I didn’t say anything to my manager. I was too busy thinking about what I needed to do next, when I should have been focused on her.

People need to know that you are listening to them. Don’t just stand there in silence. Remember to respond by saying things like “Mmmhmmm” or “Yes?” or “That’s terrible!” Ask questions to show that you are taking them seriously. Repeat their words back to them in your own words, so that they know you have understood them.

Expressions

When I’m thinking deeply about something, I tend to put on my “poker face.” It can be hard to read my expression. It could mean boredom, or indifference, or deliberate blocking of negative thoughts (like “Wow, my boss is an idiot!”). I had my poker face on that day.

People need to know that you care about what they are saying. Since that day, I’ve worked at adding expression to my poker face. (Just like Data from Star Trek: TNG did in his quest to become more human.)

Data's Day on Star Trek TNG

I hope I’m doing a better job than that, though! Ouch.

I have also learned to nod my head, lean toward the person who is speaking, and leave my arms uncrossed. All of these signals show that I am interested in what the other person has to say.

Actions

This was the only part I got right. After my manager left me, I got right on to solving that client problem. Later on, she thanked me for my work. I had demonstrated that I took the crisis seriously. But my manager might still wonder: Did I care because she yelled at me, or did I care because it was important to me? Luckily, I got other opportunities to prove myself and have her get to know who I am. Sometimes, all we get is one shot.

Don’t waste your opportunity. Make sure you use all three of your powers to reach a meeting of the minds. It’s almost as good as telepathy.

__

Have you ever experienced a time when someone failed to read you? Please share your stories below…

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16 thoughts on “Can You Read My Mind?

  1. Hey, I wanted to say up front that I really enjoyed your article, and that you’re completely correct that people should be trying to practice active listening to communicate their receptiveness when someone is talking to them.

    I’d like to provide examples from my own point of view (since you asked for them) but usually I’m the one on the other side of not being able to read someone’s mind…

    I apologize to those who’ve I’ve annoyed with my lack of communication skills. (They know who they are…)

    (Thanks for putting J’onn J’onnz in the post!)

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    1. Thanks, Pat! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I also appreciate your honesty about being the person on the other side. 🙂 I think we’ve all been there, too! I love J’onn J’onnz, he’s one of my favourite members of the Justice League. I was glad to have a chance to include him in the post. We’ll see how many of the other Justice League members I can include in future posts. 😉

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      1. I’d have to think about it, there are so many good ones! In the Justice League: Unlimited TV series, I was fond of Huntress, the Question, and Vigilante. 🙂

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  2. Great post! It’s so important to give visual and verbal clues so the other person knows you’re listening. Back when I was in college, I took a class called Interpersonal Communication that focused on active listening and being able to say what needed to be said, even under difficult circumstances. Best class I ever took.

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    1. Thanks, Lori! That’s great that your college offered a class like that. I’ve been through a few versions over time in the workplace, and the ones that dealt with handing conflict (one of those difficult circumstances) were by far the best.

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  3. Yes. I had a boss who would often come into my office to chat about the business or other random stuff. One day he talked about gestures and how you can tell if someone is lying. I thought it was a weird topic of discussion, but whatever. Sometime later he came into my office and noticed I’d been writing with my left hand. If you’re left handed the opposite is true of the gestures.I believe he’d been testing all of his subordinates with what he’d learned about lying gestures. So I assume he thought I’d been lying to him and then realized I wasn’t when he noticed I was left handed. He was an…interesting boss.

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    1. Wow. “Interesting” indeed! Thanks for sharing your story. Unbelievable that he would bring up that topic in front of the team. I’ll bet no one trusted him after that (if they even did before)!

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  4. Hi Sue, good post and a very interesting topic. I have the worried face when I am thinking and I am practicing my poker face because I’m tired of saying I’m not worried/confused. The wires must be mixed up ;-).

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  5. Very true, and communication is so important! The other side of that is to actually express and say what we want, how we feel – so that others can understand what’s going on in our heads (and do all the things you’ve outlined in your post!). It can be really hard to actually say what we want outright, and then frustrations arise when the other person doesn’t quite get it.

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    1. Hi, Celine! Yes, it can be very difficult for us to state what we want and how we feel. It’s easy to talk about other things, but as soon as we have to talk about ourselves we tend to lose the right words. I’ve definitely been there! 🙂

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  6. I deal with this every day in my work as a freelance writer. Clients cannot communicate what they want and they get mad when I don’t guess it. I think it’s just part of it, but it’s definitely annoying!

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    1. Hi, Stephanie! Working with clients can definitely be stressful. It’s true that one of the biggest challenges is figuring out what they need. Since I have a background in requirements analysis, I’m used to asking lots of questions to draw out my client’s needs. A lot of times, though, they don’t have much time for me. That’s when I try to arrange for a review of an initial draft before I get too far in the process. Otherwise it can be a waste of time for everyone. (Of course, this is much easier to do on long-term projects than on the ones with quick deadlines!) Thanks for commenting, I really appreciate it. And best of luck with your future projects!

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  7. Terrific post, and some wonderfully valuable words for us all. It’s clear you’re a problem solver–and what makes it so unique is that you not only use your capable skills on your clients, but also turn them to your advantage for yourself. Cheers to you!

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    1. Thanks, Shelley! Glad you liked my post. I think anyone who works as a business analyst needs to be a problem solver in order to survive. 😉 I just love it when you can apply new skills to your own life while helping others at the same time. It makes the whole learning process worthwhile!

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