Our minds are shockingly fast and efficient to draw conclusions. On top of this, our minds are shockingly efficient and fast to draw especially the kind of conclusions that back our former beliefs, needs, fears and desires. Our minds circle around ourselves, surely, since we are the main characters of our thinking.
The problem here is that sometimes we happen to have harmful thoughts and fears. We experience, for example, that we want or need things that don’t really help us towards our actual goals or might even bring us disbenefit. Or, we have decided to hate someone with whom it would actually be important to get along. Even the neutral situations and experiences might strengthen the negative image which is carved to our minds about ourselves or others, or things in general.
Practical examples of harmful automation
Once, you iterpreted your bosses sudden snap so that he doesn’t like you, and now everything he says feels like he is trying to smoke you out of the company.
You have been forced to go back to the technology you hated earlier. Even though the technology itself has developed quite a lot, every little error and flaw makes you furious. Every day you curse why you can’t use your favorite technology to which you would forgive all the same errors without even noticing.
Recently, your colleague has been replying to your emails very slowly, if at all. She also doesn’t notice you in the kitchen, when you both arrive simultaneously to fetch coffee. You are sure that it’s because this colleague is a disrespectful, sloppy and lazy bastard. You complain about her to your other colleague and together you decide to disregard her in the next project.
A client goes on and on about this insane suggestion he is trying to get through even though you have given profound arguments against it at least four times. Naturally, this means that the client is a stubborn idiot and the tone of your emails grows colder and more condescending one after another.
What else could this possibly mean?
The question in the heading is annoying. It is that, because we are very fond of our automated thinking. Making conclusions and acting according to them is effortless and saves energy for other brainly functions. Sometimes we draw conclusions and act based on them so quickly, that we can’t even catch ourselves doing it.
However, if we stop for a few seconds and ask ourselves what else this could mean, our mind is able to come up with a great many other explanations. It just doesn’t do it automatically or without asking. At least my mind doesn’t, yet.
The question ”What else could this mean?” forces us to think about the other person’s perspective and situation they’re at.
Asking leads us away from complete certainty and lowers the threshold to make sure what the other person really meant or what is going on in their lives. It prevents the unnecessary conflicts, or at least diminishes the proportions of them.
The question is easy, but asking it is not
It feels like the negative interpretation is the more automatic the more of a mess our own mind, self-esteem and well-being is. The negative interpretations also amplify the more scared and worried we are. And, on the other hand, on these pits it is even harder to challenge our thinking. I am one of those, that regularly fail using this tool.
Luckily my annoyingly beloved inner circle has been listening to my rant about this tool so much, that they can’t wait to mention when I don’t use it myself. So, when I give my harangue about some issue, they look at me gently and ask: ”Elisa, what else could this mean?” It’s annoying, but it works.
You can help your own loved ones and colleagues, and you don’t even have to be annoying. When somebody approaches you complaining about some situation, pose a question with which you can lead this person to think of the issue out of an alternative perspective:
- I wonder what else could be the cause of it.
- I wonder what else it could have meant.
- I wonder what could be going on with that person.
- I wonder if everything is ok with him.
- I wonder what made him react like that.
- I wonder why he has started to act/behave like this now.
- I wonder how he has interpreted your original message.
Sooner or later we are capable of asking these questions also of ourselves. We might not do it in time before we draw our conclusions, but at least we can check the conclusions before we start to act according to them.
Can you already? Come share your experience in Koodarikuiskaaja Slack!
TL;DR: What else could this mean?
- We draw hasty conclusions and act according to them.
- These conclusions might be completely wrong or to back our unreasonably negative view of reality.
- By asking ”what else could this mean”, we get alternative interpretations of the situation.
- This prevents unnecessary conflicts.
- We can help our own colleagues to find alternative interpretations by also asking of them what else it could mean, that they told you.