If You Could Read My Mind, We Wouldn’t Be Having This Conversation

2010 May 27

Hate To Break It To You is a recurring feature wherein we dispense succinct home truths that everyone could benefit from facing up to, unpleasant as they may be.

The rest of the world aren’t mind readers. We frequently take it for granted that people can figure out when we’re happy or disappointed or absolutely furious, but, unless we verbalize these feelings or type them out in a 32-pt bullet list (comic sans only, please), they likely can’t (but what else could my death glare mean but I want to shank you for stealing my parking spot?). Very few folks have the skills, time or inclination for picking up on subtlety. You think a two-week embargo on all email and texts will communicate how hurt you are, he thinks your silence is just an indication that you’re buried under work. You think pretending to be absorbed in stapling will indicate that you’re both busy and disinterested and keep your coworker from hovering in your doorway regaling you with details of her custody battle, but she takes your monosyllabic responses as an invitation to vent her spleen sans interruption. You see how it is. We think we’re being crystal clear and all too often we take the inability of the other party to decode our message as a direct reflection of their feelings for or understanding of us. If my parents really loved me, they’d know I wanted a pony for Christmas and not a stupid trampoline*!

Photo by no heroes in my SkY.

But it’s not you and it’s not them, it’s the nature of communication and the complexity of the world and the fact that we’re bombarded with billions of bits of information, involved in dozens of interactions and interpersonal exchanges a day and possessed of the tendency of human nature toward utter self absorption. Just as others are missing our signs, signals and dramatic sighs, we’re overlooking theirs. Two-way street, my friends. Think about that the next time your best friend from high school doesn’t return your calls for a month and you chalk it up to the world’s longest bout of stomach flu.

And even more than those in our sphere, the world at large has no time for subtlety, for hand-holding you through the rough parts, for calling a timeout in the fourth quarter so you can catch your breath. The world has a lot of other kids to worry about, so if you want something from it, you better pipe up. And loudly. You have to show it that you’re worth the space you occupy (lest one of your global siblings squeezes you out) and that your voice deserves to be heard. Demurring doesn’t cut it.

I’ve said it before, but you don’t get the help you don’t ask for. The same often goes for respect, for consideration of your feelings, for time and attention. There’s no shame in asking for these things and your relationships aren’t inherently flawed or inadequate because you have to express your needs rather than the utterly unrealistic expectation of having them recognized and met without you having to make a peep (unless your entire social circle is made up of fawning sycophants or perhaps old English butlers). Don’t make mind reading into a test of your importance to another and don’t assume that someone has accurately interpreted your message unless you’ve spelled it out and possibly furnished them with a color-coded diagram. And for God’s sake, close your office door if you don’t want to be disturbed.

*Please send me all of your unwanted trampolines.

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