Inside and outside view

Photo by dlco4

Following the last two posts about Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert (here and here) I wanted to highlight a few more interesting quotes from the book. One of the basic challenges that people encounter in any relationship, and especially when approaching a difficult conversation or feedback, is that they assume things about what the other person is thinking or feeling. As the authors of Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss what Matters Most explain, people confuse intentions with actions. We can see the action a person did (or hear what he said). We can only assume his or her intentions. In the book, Gilbert gives us a glimpse to why that happens:

We are the only people in the world whom we can know from the inside. We experience our own thoughts and feelings but must infer that other people are experiencing theirs. We all trust that behind those eyes and inside those skulls, our friends and neighbors are having subjective experiences very much like our own, but that trust is an article of faith and not the palpable, self-evident truth that our own subjective experiences constitute.

In other words, we have an inside view of our own emotions and thoughts, but an outside view of other people’s emotions and thoughts. Or as Gilbert puts it:

There is a difference between making love and reading about it, and it is the same difference that distinguishes our knowledge of our own mental lives from our knowledge of everyone else’s.

The problem, as the book skillfully explains, is that whenever our mind encounters ambiguity it tends to fill in the details without telling us about it. We assume things about the other person. Automatically. Without being aware that we are doing it.

This is something we need to remember. We are on the outside. To get a glance on the inside, we need to engage the other person. To listen with him or her. To ask questions. Because when it comes to the human mind, the only way to get a tiny window into the inside view is if the other person communicates it to us. And this process requires trust.

So, how do you make sure you get a glance of a person’s inside view and not only the outside view?


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