Landmines of language: Mind reading — the "I know what you mean" fallacy

By SteveDrozdeck

Drozdeck & Assoc.


If you've ever heard statements like "I know what you mean," "She should know what I want," or "He's disappointed in me," you have heard people making assumptions about understanding what is in the other person's mind. For someone to "know what I want," I have to have told him or her specifically and exactly what I want. To truly know that someone is "disappointed," I would have to ask. Even then, the word is relative to the individual. Here are some examples of statements based upon mind reading.

"They all know what the policy means."

How do you know that? For that matter, how do they know that. Even if they all read the identical words, most people would have different interpretations.

"Of course they know how to do that."

How do they know it? Were they taught it?

"It's obvious to me they want to do this."

How is it obvious? Are there different potential interpretations?

"Salespeople think they can get away with anything."

Which ones? Do they all think that? How do you know that? What do they think they can get away with?

Mind reading has caused more misunderstandings, disappointments and grief than almost any other thinking pattern that I'm aware of. People are funny. They always assume that "other people should be aware of my needs without my having to tell them."

Some people won't even give a hint as to their needs, yet will be disappointed or even angry that the other person was unable to become a psychic and just "know" what was necessary.

Assuming is basically the same as mind reading. One of the best definitions of assuming that I ever heard was that whenever you ass/u/me you run the risk of making an "ass" out of "u/you" and "me." Remember that things are rarely black and white. They are usually various hues and shades of gray.

The key is to get specific information and to avoid assumptions. Sometimes this is difficult to do. However, the rewards are certainly worth the effort. In sales, you cannot afford the risks of a misunderstanding.

A great English poet by the name of Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem entitled "Six Serving Men." He indicated that questions preceded by one of the six "men" Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why will get you the answers you need to just about anything. Learn to use them.

However, you must learn to use them carefully. Asking these or any other questions in an aggressive manner usually results in a confrontation. Be very, very careful about how you ask the question.

If you attempt to match the client's words to your meanings, you will lose time, the client's attention and rapport, and probably the sale as well.

Material taken from "What They Don't Teach You in Sales 101," by Steven Drozdeck, et all.