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Why do they do that? How to understand people.

Submitted by on January 23, 2012 – 11:08 pmNo Comment

By Mark Tyrrell

This article focuses on the importance of developing the skill of super observation when looking directly at the people in your life and also when thinking about them and their behaviour.

Of course, I’m not recommending that you travel through life as a Mr Spock from Star Trek type character, coolly observing other people from a distance at the expense of spontaneous relaxed fun and warm interaction with them. Most of the time we don’t need to be analysing other people, but just enjoy being with them.

But it’s also true that other people can be baffling sometimes and getting better at observing others and reading their intentions can improve your personal and professional life – and also help you to help them sometimes.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve sometimes found yourself in the position of asking yourself questions like:

“What do they mean by what they said?”

“Why did they do that?”

“Why do I get the feeling they are not being straight with me – or haven’t I got the whole picture here?”

But once you really absorb what I’m saying here you’ll have the key, or even – dare I say – a set of keys, for unlocking other people’s mysterious behaviour.

Dr Milton Erickson, the most celebrated hypnotherapist of the 20th century, recommended we look more than listen when attempting to understand other people.

I think he meant that the unconscious messages people transmit often get masked by what they communicate consciously.

Conscious and unconscious

The first thing to remember when looking at other people is that everybody has an ‘unconscious’ mind as well as a ‘conscious’ one.

Sometimes you’ll hear the unconscious mind described as the subconscious mind, but they are the same thing.

This means that sometimes people think they are doing one thing while in fact they are really doing something else. Well none of us have absolute total self knowledge all the time and sometimes other people can read our actions and true intentions better than we ourselves can.

So when you notice that there is a big difference between what someone is doing and what they say they are doing, they are not necessarily lying to you. But they may not actually know their own unconscious motivations – at least not all the time.

The lady doth protest too much

I remember introducing a female friend of mine to one of my male friends at a dinner party some years ago.

He has quite a strong personality and she seemed to take an instant dislike to him. Or so she said. But I detected an attraction. To me there seemed to be a kind of disconnect between what she said she felt about him and what she really seemed to feel.

I couldn’t help but notice how she looked when his name was mentioned and what she said she felt about him. I began to notice a pattern. Every time I mentioned him, a tiny smile would appear on her face, for the briefest of moments, before she would reiterate, perhaps more forcibly than strictly necessary, how objectionable she found him.

I didn’t argue with her, partly because I think she really was consciously unaware of her attraction to him, even as her unconscious mind somehow always seemed to conspire to make her present at the same social events as him, and at the same time. She seemed genuinely surprised when, as she said, she ‘suddenly’ started to like him. But to me it was clear she had liked him without knowing it from the start. And, you guessed it, they’ve been happily married for ten years.

So what are we to make of this kind of thing?

The congruence of words and deeds

Well it’s not that we should never take people’s words at face value. People are often quite straightforward and there’s no need to look for complication when it’s not there. I think too much psychological theory has done that quite enough.

I think it’s more that we should just be attuned to the other ways people communicate, and be open to the occasional possibility that they might be communicating to us in more than one way, perhaps by leaking unconscious feelings in some way while consciously telling us something quite different.

We can thus look to see if someone’s unconscious communication accords with their conscious communication. My friend’s unconscious communication told me she was attracted to this man, while her conscious communication told me she didn’t like him one bit or want him in her life. So her communication was ‘incongruent’.

So the second thing to remember is the importance of not just listening to what people say but watching what they do.

Look for congruence – and also lack of it. Is there incongruence between the behaviour someone displays and what they actually say and tell you? If someone says they can’t stand somebody, but always seem to turn up wherever that certain somebody happens to be, that, to me, shows incongruence in their communication.

Continued in next issue…

‘Why do they do that? How to understand people.

Tuning in to incongruence

Don’t rush to judgment

Metaphorical communication

About the Author

Mark Tyrrell is the Co-founder of Uncommon Knowledge – leading edge online training in hypnotherapy and psychotherapy.He has written many psychology articles and is a contributor to other sites.He does public seminars for health professionals on self esteem, bullying and trauma and lead trainer on Uncommon Knowledge’s online therapy courses.  And he runs.

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