In psychology, mind-reading is when we try to infer what is going on in someone’s mind without asking them to clarify. It’s a common trap in relationships that often leads to miscommunication and misunderstanding.
In psychology, mind-reading is when we try to infer what is going on in someone’s mind without asking them to clarify.
Often it can become an unhealthy and destructive habit in relationships, because we falsely assume we know what someone is thinking or feeling when we really don’t know. This can cause us to act in ways that don’t make sense to the other person, because we aren’t actually empathizing with their needs and desires.
Mind-reading is natural, and we all do it some degree. This is why I often say everyone is a psychologist, because it’s in our nature as a social species to try to read people’s mental states and intentions, especially to navigate our social world and relationships.
At the same time, mind-reading can also be a roadblock to true understanding and empathy. If we always assume we know what’s going on in someone’s mind, and that we don’t need to put in any effort to ask questions or understand them better, then we are bound to make mistakes in our judgements.
We see this all the time in relationships. A friend doesn’t invite you somewhere because they “assume you wouldn’t want to go,” or a lover makes a decision for you because they “assume they know what you want,” or a coworker snaps back at you for saying something because they “assume you were attacking them.”
The essence of mind-reading is making false assumptions about others. And that rarely leads to healthy and positive outcomes.
The only real way to overcome the problem of mind-reading is to ask people questions and get them to clarify what they are thinking and feeling before you jump to assumptions.
How to Avoid “Mind-Reading” in Your Relationships
Here are the best ways to minimize the amount of “mind-reading” you do in your relationships and actually put in the effort to understand someone’s mental state before jumping to conclusions.
- Accept your bias – One of the most important things in communication is to accept that you have a bias and that means you have your own limited view of the world with imperfect knowledge – and you don’t know everything. When you understand this, you’ll recognize the importance of limiting the gap between what you know vs. what you don’t know about others.
- Be more self-aware – The better you understand yourself – your own values, beliefs, habits, and personality – the better you will be at empathizing with others. In fact, self-awareness is the first step toward empathy, because if you truly know yourself then you won’t make the mistake of projecting your particular views onto others.
- Ask more questions – To bridge the gap between yourself and others, the most important thing to do is to ask more questions. The simplest questions can often be the most important, such as “What’s on your mind?” or “What are you thinking and feeling?” or “What do you mean when you say…?” By taking the time to clarify someone else’s mental state, you’ll be way less likely to engage in erroneous mind-reading.
- Practice perspective-taking – Often we try to read people’s minds without ever trying to step in their shoes and see the world from their perspective. By practicing perspective-talking in an honest and open way, we can discover why someone may think or feel differently than us in a certain situation.
- Repeat things to clarify – To make sure you understand someone, it always helps to repeat things back to them to clarify what they mean. Simply asking, “So you’re saying…?” is all you need to repeat something back to someone and let them clarify or correct you if there is any misunderstanding. This is also related to the echo-effect, which shows that when we mirror people’s specific words and vocabulary, it shows that we are listening to them and paying attention.
- Admit when you’re wrong – Every relationship is going to go through some miscommunication and misunderstanding. It’s unreasonable to think that you’ll always 100% get someone all the time. However, when we do encounter these misunderstandings, the most important thing is that we admit we made a mistake, apologize, and promise to try and be more understanding in the future.
Mind-Reading: Avoid This Common Trap to Improve Your Communication Skills
Instead of mind-reading everyone and thinking we understand the world, it’s often best to put in the extra effort to ask them questions and clarify what they are really thinking or feeling in a certain situation, otherwise we set ourselves up for tremendous misunderstanding.
Be more mindful of when you are trying to “mind read” others. There’s a good chance that you may be wrong or that you don’t have the complete picture. Take the time to clarify!