Under the Hood
It’s very, very easy for me to come up with narratives about other people. Some are based on evidence, some are based on fleeting impressions, and some (in my lesser moments) are based on conversations several degrees removed from the person in question. But if I think about it, I expect only a tiny fraction are true.
Each person has a complete internal story that I cannot see. This internal story affects the person’s actions and thoughts, but it’s not bijective: From an action, I cannot definitively go backwards to their internal state.
As I take on more roles that involve working with people, I try to remind myself of this truth. Just because a person looks bored doesn’t mean they are. Just because a person shows no signs of distress doesn’t imply anything about their internal state. Just because they are smiling, telling jokes, and bringing energy to an interaction doesn’t mean they are fine. Just because they don’t appear expressive doesn’t imply they lack a rich state of internal emotions.
When I coach or teach, I don’t get the luxury of knowing a person’s internal state. So I try to look for clues, while always remembering that I only see a sliver of a person each time I interact with them. I don’t get the whole story, and it’s not for me to fill in the blanks with assumptions that may not apply.
There’s always more going under the hood than I realize. Hypothesizing can be harmless in the best case but negative in the worse. So instead, I try to simply acknowledge that my job is to meet others where they are, not where I think they are. It’s a good less to remember.