Our # 1 Mistake in Relating to Others

by Steven Kessler

Our biggest mistake when relating to others is right there in front of our eyes, yet we're blind to it. Why? Because we have experienced the world in only one way, that is, our own way. We have never experienced the world in the many different ways that others experience it. So we assume something that is wrong: We assume that everyone else experiences the world the same way we do.

It is natural for us to assume this, and it's normal, in the sense that everyone does it. But it is fundamentally wrong. And it causes big problems in communication, because when someone describes what they experience in words, the listener can only interpret those words according to their own experience, not the speaker's experience. Then the listener thinks they understand what the speaker meant, but really they don't, because they don't have the speaker's personal experiences as a reference. The two people are using the same words, but each is referencing only their own experience, not the other's.

If the listener knows that their world is probably fundamentally different from the one the speaker is describing, they can ask the speaker to flesh it out with more details and describe their raw sensory experience, not just their conclusions. If they can be deeply open to what the speaker says, this may lead the listener to a new understanding of something that is completely outside their own experience of the world.

But if the listener assumes that the speaker's world is just like their own, they will likely misunderstand, while thinking that they understand perfectly. Then, when the speaker realizes that they're being misunderstood and complains about it, some hurt feelings or a fight will follow.

How can we solve this?

The only real solution to this problem is to understand how others see the world by seeing it their way, that is, by getting inside their experience. And this isn't just about differences of gender or race or class. It is more fundamental than that; it is about seeing the world from inside the other person's personality. It is about seeing beyond the unconscious belief filters and sensory filters that have become part of our own personalities.

The best way to open up your vision is to learn a map of personality. The best map I've seen is the 5 Personality Patterns, based on Wilhelm Reich's work with character structure. Other popular maps are the Enneagram and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. All of these maps will show you that:

  1. There are multiple, different ways of experiencing the world.
  2. Your way is one way, but it is not the way.
  3. Others may actually experience the world very differently than you do.
  4. None of us are experiencing the entire picture.
  5. None of us are even seeing our own slice of the picture accurately.
  6. No one is wrong. In fact, everyone is right, from their own point of view.

So I encourage you to learn at least one map of personality. Use it to break your assumption that the world you routinely see is the one, true, complete picture of the world. Use it to give you some insight into how other people with different personality structures see the world. And use it to help you understand them and communicate with them more effectively. It will make your interactions with other people much smoother and easier. And sometimes, it can give you such accurate insights into others that they'll think you have x-ray vision!

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