Our way is not self-evident

This article in a nutshell: The way that you see the world/ a task/ a certain situation is not self-evident. If you want something to proceed in a certain way, then you’re going to have to have an upfront conversation about what everyone’s expectations are.

Time and time again as human beings, we make the mistake that our view of the world is shared in a large part by other people. It isn’t. You are a once-in-a-lifetime outcome of your personality, physiology, experiences, your parents’ issues, and how much inner work you’ve done as an adult. The reality is that no one else could possibly come close to your level of uniqueness*, and this is true about everyone.

How we see the world is called a paradigm: it’s the lens through which we make meaning of what happens to and around us. Except, the word ‘lens’ makes people think that it’s like glasses that we can take on and off, and beneath the glasses we’re all the same. The reality is more like we are looking through glasses on glasses on glasses, many of which are invisible and unknown even to us, and we couldn’t take them off even if we tried. We just need to become aware of what they are, so we can understand whether or not they actually help us or hurt us. And, in fact, our glasses ARE us, in a large part.

We’re often lulled into a false sense of security that the way we see the world is understood and shared by others, and that we ourselves understand the other people in our lives. Workplaces, for example, are often governed by implicit (and sometimes explicit) norms of behaviour or communication, which help us to comprehend what the prevailing view on ‘acceptable’ is and then subsequently to conform to it. However, we’re also regularly taken aback by what people ‘get away with’ in workplaces, or what they thought ‘might be okay’… this is the issue of us thinking that we comprehended what the rules were, but we fail to remember that we’ve all read the rules through our many layered glasses and thus our understanding of the rules is different from each other.** Our way is not, after all, self-evident.

The issue of assuming that our way is self evident is that we hold people to a standard that they don’t know that they’re being held to, and which they’re almost inevitably going to fail to meet. In addition to not getting from A to B as efficiently as possible, this failure to clarify expectations is going to cause conflict, which tends to then upset people, with the end result being that we’re not going to get to productive outcomes as quickly as we might have if everyone was in a calm and non-defensive space.

Conversations about our individual expectations can be incredibly powerful when they are had upfront. A lot of people find this difficult to do, particularly in situations where they have no formal authority (such as with a peer, client or lover). Next week I’ll be talking about how you might instigate and facilitate conversations about expectations.

If we can accept that our way is rarely self evident, then we must also accept:

  1. That people are frequently going to behave in ways that confound us; and
  2. That we need to recognise that confoundedness for what it is – a symptom of our expectation that everyone thinks like us.***

Once we’ve recognised those things, and remembered both ours and others uniqueness, we could do several things:

  1. Have a think about what we thought was going to happen and why;
  2. Discern what our expectations tells us about the way that we personally see and experience the world;
  3. Seek to understand what the other person was attempting when they engaged in that behaviour; and
  4. Express calmly and clearly what, if anything, we might need to feel okay about what just happened.

I find it helpful to remind myself that each of us are considered crazy by at least one other person in the world, and that is why grace is essential to relating. It’s far easier to point to someone else’s crazy and to say that that’s the problem, than it is to acknowledge that there can never be complete understanding between humans. From my own experience, our judgement of others won’t help us to get a better outcome.

*If there was a formula for uniqueness, I speculate it might be: (Personality x physiology)^(your childhood experiences * your parent’s shit) – your inner work done as an adult + (the impact of your adult experiences * your level of self-awareness about your own shit).

**Also, human beings are so complex that the rules will never entirely cover the gamut of what human beings might do! We are pretty incredibly creative.

*** Or, if we don’t have this expectation, the confoundedness is a red flag from our unconscious, telling us something about how we see the world.