Friday, June 16, 2006

Thinking three steps ahead

Honestly, I'm just in a bad mood. I don't like myself, and I need to get over it. Thank goodness it's almost the weekend.


My horoscope said I'd have a break through. This week I have observed signs of what people may be most annoyed with about me. My therapist seemed to agree.

When I trained to be a college orientation counselor, we did this great exercise in groups of three. One person was the observer. The other two people sat back to back. The goal was to construct a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Included in the exercise were two slices of bread on a plate, a knife, a little package of jelly, and a large scoop of peanut butter in a Dixie cup. The challenge was that the person building the sandwich was to follow the instructions of the other person *literally*, as if they knew nothing of making a sandwich. Sitting back to back prevent the instructor from providing any hand gestures and observing the progress of the sandwich maker. The exercise demonstrated how many assumptions we make in talking to others.

The results? I recall that maybe one or two teams came close to creating the correct sandwich. There were the various odd creations like having the jelly in one corner and the peanut butter lumped in the center. The best creation was one where the "instructor" had said, "put the peanut butter on the bread." The literal interpretation the partner made was to pick up the Dixie cup of peanut butter and place it on top of a slice of bread. Not only had steps about the knife been skipped, but the choice of verbs played a role.

I always felt I learned an important insight from this. Unfortunately, I think I still skip steps all the time and unintentionally annoy people. Basically, I make decisions for others based on weighing the facts I have and make a choice without consulting them. It's not that I don't care for their input, it's that I assume I already know what is best. Or, I explain a reason or conclusion I've made which doesn't make sense because I've failed to show the logical steps leading up to my comment.

A case in point is the netting I installed on my balcony. As I mentioned, Blondie looked a bit disturbed over my actions. During the conversation, she assume the netting was a stiff wire. I had her touch it to show it was a thin mesh. She had thought the rigid wire screen would be dangerous to the cats. My opinion was that actually that would have been safer, but the hardware store man said that it would be more expensive and more difficult to install. Then, she asked why I couldn't install the mesh on the inside of the balcony so that her cats could still climb. I told her I had thought about that but realized that stapling the mesh to the balcony floor was not effective and probably less sturdy. She paused and agreed. Every time she questioned me, I demonstrated that I had already made an effort to think through my plan. I hope that it proved to her that I wasn't being careless or thoughtless. Maybe I could have save us both some concern if I had walked her through all this ahead of time.

This is probably only one example of how I interact with people. Other times it's probably more subtle. For example, I'll leave people off of an e-mail about an event because I know they're not interested in the topic or they'll be out of town. My thought is not to litter their e-mail inbox with unwanted items, but others may think I am excluding them or forgot them. I can only wonder.

My mind processes too fast for its own good. It bothers me to know that I'm not communicating effectively. [sigh] I wish I could freeze time for five seconds each time before I speak so I can hear myself talk first and make sure it will make sense when it exits my mouth. There are too many habits I need to monitor myself for and I can't catch myself fast enough.

No comments: