Saturday, January 22, 2011

Why would a reasonable, sane person DO that?

There was a workshop I attended some time ago called Crucial Conversations. The basic concept was to give people tools to be able to approach and correctly handle necessary conversations where emotions run high and there are high stakes involved.

One of the lessons about how to deal with a crucial conversation is to focus mainly on facts and what we KNOW and not to assume things we really don't know as fact. All of us, every day, try to rationalize and come up with a reason for people's behavior we witness. We tell ourselves a story in our mind based on the facts we do know, to fill in the rest of the things we don't.

For example: You see someone talking on their cell phone on their job. You don't have any more facts than that, but all of us want to fill in the gaps, so we assume the rest we really don't know. You can assume that the person is slacking off and not doing their work. You can assume that maybe he's on break taking care of personal business. You can assume that perhaps his desk phone is malfunctioning and he's trying to call someone to fix it. You can assume that he has received an emergency call from his wife. Any of these are a possibility but until we know the rest of the facts, they're just assumptions.

Part of the problem is that most people assume the worst of others, so the most likely choice for any of us would be to automatically assume he's slacking on the job when he should be working. We do it all the time. When somebody cuts us off on the freeway, we assume the person is an asshole who thinks he owns the road. When we find the coffeepot empty at work, we assume the last person to get coffee is a lazy jerk.

Part of this may come from ourselves: The only reason we would talk on our cell phone during working hours would be if we chose to be a slacker. The only reason we would cut someone off is if we were in a bad mood and wanted to be an asshole to other drivers. The only reason we imagine we wouldn't refill the coffeepot is if we were feeling lazy that day.

So the Crucial Conversations class suggested that when we see behavior that we would think the worst of others for doing what they're doing, stop. Instead of thinking the worst, ask yourself:

"Why would a reasonable, sane person do what they're doing?"

Maybe the person that cut me off on the freeway is rushing to the hospital because his wife is in labor. Maybe the guy that didn't refill the coffeepot got called away on an emergency before he could make another pot. Maybe the guy talking on his cell phone at work is just on break, or maybe he is trying to reach I.T. because his desk phone is out of order.

If we start out with the positive attitude towards the person's behavior, it can change our whole outlook and the way we approach them and their behavior. If you're the supervisor of the employee on the cell phone, your approach is going to be much different. If you assume they're wasting company time and money by slacking on the job, "What are you doing on your cell phone during company time, Bob?" If you assume they're trying to deal with a problem of some kind, "Bob, I see you're on your cell phone, is everything all right?"

How would YOU react to the two different questions if you believe what you were doing is reasonable?

I observe that the same kinds of things happen with discussions about gun control, from both sides of the debate. People assume all sorts of things about the motivation of those they disagree with, because they just don't know all the facts why the opposition believes the way they do, and so they make up the rest based on their own motivations if that was their behavior.

Supporters of the right to keep and bear arms assume that the reason other people want more gun control is because they must want good people to be defenseless victims. Or that gun control supporters just want all guns banned, and they're doing it one step at a time. Or that the anti-gun people only care about the victims of tragic shootings because it furthers their agenda of more gun control.

I see gun control supporters accuse people that carry guns of only carrying them because they want to kill people. Or that people choosing to open carry firearms are only wanting to feel macho, or to intimidate those around them. I have been personally accused by one gun control supporter of living a Clint Eastwood fantasy because I only want criminals to "make my day." One of the biggest assumptions that I've heard the most is that the reason I carry a firearm is because I am afraid - that I live my life in fear.

I know for a fact that I don't want to kill anyone. I know for a fact that when I open carried a gun for a short time around Eugene/Springfield, I wasn't trying to be macho or to intimidate anyone. I'm don't have any illusions of grandeur that I'm going to whip out my gun, spit out a witty one-liner, and see how lucky some punk feels. And I know I don't carry a gun because I'm afraid.

These are all accusations from people who simply don't know all the facts and are telling themselves a story, based on the only reasons they would consider doing these things. Until we all stop assuming things about the people we disagree with, we're never going to get past our assumptions and into the real facts.

What sorts of things do you assume about people? If you start asking yourself why a reasonable, sane person would behave like they are, it gives you a far different perspective and changes the tone of the discussion (at least your side) for the better. Perhaps the person really isn't reasonable or sane, but at least it will start the conversation on better, kinder footing.


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