Sometimes in my ethnographic interviews with consumers I find myself shocked at the behavior I observe. It is hard to imagine why people do what they do.
I bet you experience this as well—with your boss, coworkers, client or customers.
How could they possibly have that point of view? Why are they so far behind in their thinking? How can they be so off base? Don’t they know the internet (or my client) has an answer for that?
These questions that sweep through our minds are judgements. They are not questions that prompt curiosity or further exploration. They close our minds.
But I thought I was open minded…
It happens in a flash. I have found I am often unaware it has happened until it manifests as smugness, self-righteousness, or indignation. Thud. Mind closed.
We bring a subtle yet significant assumption to this type of thinking that needs to be challenged. The assumption is that we all started this race with our toes equally at the starting line and some people just haven’t given it their best effort.
But could it be they started a few steps behind us or maybe many steps behind us? Maybe they were never shown the starting line or taught how to race. Maybe they started too fast and had to walk or something crossed their path that knocked them down. Or maybe they weren’t given the abilities that we were.
Why-finder shuts off
I am preoccupied with why people do what they do. It is my occupation and my hobby. When I sense in myself a twinge of smugness, I become alarmed because I know my why-finder has shut off.
I have developed ways to keep this from happening. For example, I often say to myself, “If I were given their DNA, raised by their parents, in that region and given the same limitations and hardships, I would make the same choices.” It’s true, I would.
When I practice this self-talk, something happens; something more than just sympathy or empathy. Compassion happens. My mind opens, and my heart too. I begin to understand why they do things differently than me and I begin to find ways I can act on their behalf.
Let’s face it, if you are reading this post it is very likely you were given a head start. You started with an advantage—a genetic, geographic, parental, gender, ethnic or race advantage.
When we find ourselves frustrated by the decisions others are making, maybe it is actually our thinking that is off base.