How do you help yourself understand other people’s experience?

A failure of compassion

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I was eavesdropping on two college girls sharing stories about their respective love lives, when one of them made a comment that caught my ear. She said:

I didn’t know I was on a date until I came home from one.

Apparently this happens all the time. The guy fails to declare his intentions, and so the girl assumes they’re just hanging out. As friends. With no benefits.

Until it’s midnight on a weekend and they’re sitting at a small table in a dark bar drinking wine and playing footsie under the table. At which point the girl realizes, wait a minute.

This feels an awful lot like a date to me.

Of course it does. Because it is. There was just a failure of communication.

More importantly, there was a failure of compassion. And this is the piece most people miss. Because whether we’re dating or being interviewed or making a sales pitch or conducting our annual performance review, we should never assume that other person is having the same experience we’re having.

That’s the best explanation for any human behavior that we don’t understand.

It’s not our fault, it’s just their experience.

Of course, this doesn’t mean we’re off the hook. If we want to build real intimacy with each other, there’s still an interpersonal responsibility to dig deeper. One question that repeat to ourselves in these situations is:

How is it possible that this person could think or behave in this way, and under what circumstances would it make perfect sense to do so?

It’s a useful thought experiment that helps us meet people’s lives with empathy and compassion.

Even if we’re not on a date.

How do you help yourself understand other people’s experience?

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Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author. Speaker. Strategist. Inventor. Filmmaker. Publisher. Songwriter.

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