We like to think that we deal with the world as it is. That is to say we are fairly confident that our perception of reality is fairly accurate, so we act or react in accordance with objects, people or events as they actually exist. But is that really true? Here is one way to find out. Next time you are driving observe that while you can see outside the vehicle you cannot actually see your tires. Yet you are able to drive in the center of your lane fairly easily. You cannot actually see your front bumper or sometimes even the top of your hood, and yet, you are able to maneuver the vehicle in tight spots without destroying anything.
My question is; how do you do that? How are able to hit a golf ball with a club striking it at over 200 kilometers per hour, yet you do not actually see the club impacting the golf ball. You never see your racquet at the moment of contact with the tennis ball yet you can serve a very accurate shot across the net.
You do it with your imagination! Amazingly, you do it in a split second. You are able to serve a tennis ball at 160 kph because your imagination about the location, speed, and many other physical variables about the ball, your arm and the racquet is almost exactly in line with the physical reality in that one hundredth of a second. When your imagination and reality are in sync then success is almost certain.
The problem is that people are not physical objects. They have motivations, biases, expectations which are not visible. So we observe that the most successful persons are those that can read people well. If your imagination about a persons inner self is close to that persons actual personality then you will become her/his best friend, spouse, buddy, advisor, confidante. How can you become better at it.
Lets go back to the driving metaphor. You are able to drive well today but when you first started out you were all over the place. You couldn’t drive in a straight line even in an empty parking lot. So how did you learn. Well, you practiced a lot. And you observed the car’s reaction to your control inputs. You started observing experienced drivers like your mom or dad. Eventually you started driving in traffic, in inclement weather and yes you might have had an accident or two. but all this time you were really excising your imagination and linking it to your muscle memory.
When interacting with people we tend to let our imagination about who they are guide our behavior rather than their actual personality. We talk but we don’t listen. We try to get the upper hand in the conversation. We don’t give our mind enough to time to create an accurate mental picture and we rush headlong into conflict where there could have been a friendship. Those split seconds matter. If only we had listened. So practice the art of listening.