The death spiral of thinking you understand someone when you don’t
We’ve all been on both sides of the pattern below, usually with someone we like. Neither side likes it. Usually, neither side knows how to get out of it.
From your perspective:
- You think you understand them when you don’t
- You do what you think they would like, thinking you’ll help them
- They don’t show appreciation
- You feel like they don’t appreciate you
- You consider them ungrateful and think they don’t deserve your attention
- You stop doing what you thought they wanted
- You resent them
From their perspective
- They see you do things that don’t help them
- They don’t value what you’re doing because it doesn’t help them
- They don’t know how to react—thanking you risks motivating you to keep doing what they don’t want. Not thanking you risks annoying you
- They feel trapped
- They find you annoying
The pattern locks you in as long as you don’t get that your understanding of someone is inconsistent with them. The best way out that I know is to drop your insistence that what you understand about them is correct, usually based in putting your beliefs and perspectives before theirs. It’s emotionally taxing to put someone else’s interests before yours when you’re annoyed at them. The alternative is to stay locked in the pattern.
Leaders do what works, even when they don’t like what they have to do. People follow people who put teammates’ interests before theirs.
Misunderstanding someone when you think you understand them can lead to annoyance and resentment among people who started by liking each other and wanting to help each other.
A way out is to drop your belief that you understand them that is motivating what you’re doing and replace it with genuine understanding. I recommend the technique in this post, “How to make someone feel understood: the Confirmation Cycle.”
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees