The Value of Radical Understanding: Reading Others! Part 1

Previously, we spoke about the very important skill of Calibration. The ability to detect the differences in people–observable shifts in their outward behaviors–is critical to Persuasion. As part of Radical Understanding, however, this takes on an even deeper meaning. Learning to calibrate changes in others as well as ourselves, as we strive to understand other people, can yield unexpected benefits.

I’m not psychic, though using this powerful toolset, I’ve on occasion been told that I must be. “Reading” other people is one side benefit of Radical Understanding. The truth is that when in deep rapport with someone, we often begin to share their experiences. When we nurture, then channel our instincts, then feed that additional energy into that rapport, the result can be astonishing. And if you’re more liberal with the word “reading,” it makes sense. We are indeed “reading” the persons’ full range of communications–both visible and not. Everything they realize they’re transmitting as well as everything they don’t know they’re sharing. It’s not unlike standing naked in the window for the world to see. We may have no idea…but everyone gets an eyeful.

I share this because not long ago I picked up on some very detailed information another person worked very hard to conceal. To anyone who understands what we’re discussing, this wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. But she was shocked, demanding who I’d been speaking with. Who had betrayed this secret?

What I had done is calibrate differences in her physiology from moment to moment. As I asked particular questions, I invited my sensory acuity to function much as a polygraph and mind-reading device (yes, to make that metaphor work, I had to first invent it in my mind!) in one.

Calibration included changes in skin tone or coloration, posture, movement, though it can also be more subtle. I’ve shared a story before about noticing pupil dilation in a customer’s eyes and, in combination with other observable behaviors, interpreted interest and curiosity about our topic of conversation.

It becomes even more interesting (and immediate) when we have learned to calibrate so well that we do it unconsciously. Not to take anything from the ideas of instinct, intuition, “gut feel”, or any similar tool, but when we study these things in isolation, we quickly learn that we must learn to have instinct, intuition or to feel with our gut. Many of these faculties don’t appear to be inborn, which immediately renders some such terms contradictory.

That’s never bothered me, though, and here’s why you might consider beginning to accept it as well. Anything learned can be learned by anyone–with enough commitment. I’ve had clients and students argue that without the aptitude, you won’t learn. Not so. It may require more commitment and work on the learner’s part, but anyone can learn anything. Maybe you’re a savant who can study a medical text over the weekend and be ready to teach a course on brain surgery. But if you really want to teach that course, regardless of your background, and are willing to work at it, you can do it. I’m not claiming it will be easy because my students were partly right–lacking the aptitude, you may have a lot for which to compensate. Your dedication and hard work may be truly necessary. But if you really want that goal–

So too with calibration. It’s an easily learned skill and perhaps you’re not already fascinated by people’s behavior and learning about their internal processes. You might e a natural or you might have to develop this skill set. Either way, it’s one of those skills that serves us on every level in life–in our work and in our relationships, with our children and with strangers on the street.

The first thing to know is going to sound obvious, but I guarantee you that you violate this daily. We all do. There’s a song by the Kinks I heard the other day which states this plainly, “I’m Not Like Everybody Else.” The inverse may also be true: “Everyone else is NOT like me.”

Freud was right about Projection as a Defense Mechanism, and for the focus of his work, it makes sense that he took it no further. But he’d awoken a monster in our awareness of human behavior. Projection is true on all levels of human behavior and understanding. We all tend to assume that the rest of the world is, pretty much, like us. That the rest of humanity pretty much thinks as we do. Accordingly we find it shocking and upsetting to see a violation of this assumption. Those who are different from us break this illusion for us, and since we’d rather maintain our illusion and punish the violator, those who are different face a far more aggressive response than they otherwise might.

One of the first things we must do to calibrate is to release any assumptions. Accept that we have no idea how others “are”. Only observation, using our senses to empirically observe what others are doing, can tell us anything. And even then, we must pay very close attention. If your senses aren’t tuned to pay attention to what they perceive, it won’t do much good.

We must know what the other person’s Map of the World is, how they experience subjective reality. We already know how we do–and I’m really close to 100% certain it doesn’t exactly match that of anyone but you. Learn what they are doing internally and you are beginning to radically understand them.

Set aside that assumption. Know that others have a unique subjective understanding of what’s happening. And that you must learn that subjective understanding in order to influence them most effectively.

That done, we’re ready to tune that sensory acuity and pay attention to the other person. They will share everything we need to know to help them–and us–whether through their words, their tone, body language, or unconscious “tells”. These are things you are learning with me to observe with precision.

And “observe” is the right word. Remember, we’re setting aside our own Map of the World and its corresponding filters. We’re looking for the raw information the other person broadcasts without knowing it. As we clear our minds and set aside our own Maps of the World, we can gain that crucial insight to influence them.

The objective to to observe rather than interpret, because interpretation adds all those layers of our own Map back into the mix. This only distorts our understanding of the other person’s experience. The easiest way to do that is to ask yourself whether what you just “sensed” was observable–so anyone present would have agreed with what you described–or was your interpretation, your assumption about what happened. Let’s say you watch two people arguing and one raises their hands as though to hit the other…

Step back from that thought for a moment and ask yourself: What happened there?

Did you witness one person about to hit the other?

If you think so, your first clue is the phrase “about to.” Unless you’re psychic, you can’t know with certainty what they were about to do. You can guess based upon your experiences, your own anxiety, your fear for the person you believe was about to be hit. But you don’t know it to be fact. Are you getting how this was an interpretation of what you saw?

If another observer had been there, let’s say a person who speaks with their hands, and as they become excited, animated, they wave their arms to either express themselves or to create an illusion of distance, creating space between themselves and someone with whom they’re disagreeing.

Would that observer absolutely agree with your own interpretation? Their own Map would likely suggest that no, that person’s behavior was in no way threatening. But now you have two eye-witnesses with disagreeing accounts.

Or do we? If they stuck to the observable, verifiable facts, they may likely agree completely. It’s only when we try to discern meaning from those observable facts that we can get into trouble. Our interpretations of events are wildly influenced by our own Maps of the World, making them highly unreliable. The entire point of Radical Understanding is to receive accurate information, unfiltered by our own Map of the World.

Once you’ve developed that, you’re going to want to process your observations, checking for any interpretation, and form Radical Understanding. We’ll go deeper into that in the next article. For now, pay attention to which of your “observations” contain bias or guesses–things you couldn’t know, but assume. And practice peeling those away to get to the real information beneath. That’s when we begin to appear to be reading minds.

Copyright © 2023 Chris Gingolph

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