To manage projects effectively, we must know the true state of the effort. We must distinguish between what we know for certain and what we merely believe. Yet many of us have acquired a habit of speaking and thinking — "mind reading" — that limits our ability to make this important distinction.
Have you ever said, "I know what you're thinking…"? It's a common expression. It's less common, though, to actually know what someone else is thinking. Heck, most of the time, we have trouble knowing our own minds. Yet, we use language that can lead us to believe that we can read minds. An example from The Wall Street Journal (August 23, 2001):
Stocks finished higher as economic worries sparked by the Fed's decision to reduce interest rates again gave way to a more accommodating view of corporate-profit potential.
I suppose (though I don't know) that the authors didn't research the opinions of all stock traders. Maybe they made a pretty good guess, but it's probably just a guess — it could be wrong. If you doubt that, maybe you haven't checked your 401(k) in the past year or two.
Mind reading is so pervasive that we no longer see it. Here are some key phrases that might indicate mind-reading:
- The real reason you're doing that is
- You're only saying that because
- Don't hand me that
- You know what I mean
- You would never do that unless
Whether you're mind reading depends on the answer to "How do you know that?" If the answer doesn't involve a direct report from the owner of the mind in question, you might be mind reading.
We don't actually know
what someone else is thinking.
Heck, most of the time,
we have trouble knowing
our own minds.When we accept uncritically any supposition that could be erroneous — such as a conclusion based on mind reading — then anything we derive from it is questionable. It's dangerous enough when we do it personally, but in the project context, we could be risking the well being of many others in addition to ourselves. Some examples:
- Our customers aren't requesting that feature, but let's include it — we know what's best for them.
- They're estimating $11.2 million for that project, but they always pad estimates — I'll cut it 30%.
- They always cut our estimates, so let's pad them by 30%.
- The engineers never cooperate if we just ask them to, so make it a condition of employment. If they don't do it, they're out.
It's difficult to catch yourself mind reading, so watch the people around you for one week. Collect the phrases they use. Gradually your observation skills will improve, and soon you'll be better able to observe yourself. Take care, though — if you ever come to conclude that someone else is mind reading, you're mind reading. Top Next Issue
The article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More
For more on mind reading and how we make meaning out of our observations, see "Making Meaning," Point Lookout for January 16, 2008.
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- The True Costs of Cubicles
- Although cubicles do provide facility cost savings compared with walled offices, they do so at the price
of product development delays and increased product development costs. Decisions of facilities planners
can have dramatic project schedule impact.
- Films Not About Project Teams: II
- Here's Part II of a list of films and videos about project teams that weren't necessarily meant to be
about project teams. Most are available to borrow from the public library, and all are great fun.
- Virtual Communications: III
- Participating in or managing a virtual team presents special communications challenges. Here's Part
III of some guidelines for communicating with members of virtual teams.
- When It's Just Not Your Job
- Has your job become frustrating because the organization has lost its way? Is circumventing the craziness
making you crazy too? How can you recover your perspective despite the situation?
- Deciding to Change: Trusting
- When organizations change by choice, people who are included in the decision process understand the
issues. Whether they agree with the decision or not, they participate in the decision in some way. But
not everyone is included in the process. What about those who are excluded?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
- And on December 25: Disjoint Awareness
- In collaborations, awareness of how our own work might interfere with the work of others is essential. Unless our awareness of others' work — and their awareness of ours — matches reality, the collaboration's objective is at risk. Available here and by RSS on December 25.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
- Your stuff is brilliant! Thank you!
- You and Scott Adams both secretly work here, right?
- I really enjoy my weekly newsletters. I appreciate the quick read.
- A sort of Dr. Phil for Management!
- …extremely accurate, inspiring and applicable to day-to-day … invaluable.