Reading Time: 3 minutes

My 4-year-old grandson spent the day with me yesterday. When he woke up from his nap, he came to me and excitedly said, “Granny! I had a dream, and you were in it! Remember that dump truck, that purple dump truck?” As I looked at him with curious eyes, he seemed to know that I could not recall this purple dump truck he spoke of. He said, “Granny! You know! That purple dump truck … remember it?” He went on to explain his dream as I listened and engaged with curiosity.

I couldn’t help but smile at his assumption that I was real and alive and fully present in his mind and in his dream. But my chuckling could only go so far as I was soon reminded that there are times when I, too, assume someone else could be in my mind and know (or should know) exactly what I was thinking. The truth is, we are not very good mind-readers — whether it is dreams or reality. 

Our own life experiences, associations, values, personality and character traits create in us a certain way that we see and engage the world. And this is true for others as well. So how could I assume that someone else could interpret my thoughts, feelings or needs in the same way that I do? And vice versa. If someone has ever been upset with you for not knowing what they are thinking, feeling or needing, you know how frustrating this can be.

There are a couple things, though, that help us to get inside the world of another person. The first one is to get to know the other person. John and Julie Gottman, founders of The Gottman Institute where they take a research-based approach to relationships, refer to this as Love Maps. We make a mental map of the other person, their life experiences, their values, their feelings, their needs, their affinities, their dislikes, etc. This is the foundation of a friendship, to know one another. In doing so, we can anticipate some of their mental comings and goings.

Another way to appreciate another’s inner world is to practice being attuned. Attunement is being tuned in. It is listening to understand; listening to the quality of someone’s voice, and it’s listening to not only their words, but the words they are not saying. It is watching body language for cues as to how a person feels, such as the anxiously shaking leg, or the hop in someone’s step. It is watching their eyes and noticing when they moisten or get big with joy. Attunement is putting our perspective aside and feeling another person’s feels and empathizing with them.

And lastly, a proven way to access another’s world is to just ask them. You can be curious about another’s experience by reflecting and asking clarifying questions. Reflections might be stated, yet welcome correction, such as: “That must have been so frustrating!” or “That sounds like the best part of your day.” Sometimes the asking is more direct, such as: “Are you saying when I don’t reply to your texts, you feel ignored?” Or, “Which was it you appreciated more, my calling you from work and letting you know I was on my way  home, or my being home at the normal time?”

And then remember what you have learned about this important person in your life. Update your Love Map often with new understanding of their feelings and experiences. While this may not make you quite a mind-reader, at least when they tell you about the dump truck they dreamt about, you’ll know to inquire if it was purple.

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