I am not writing this article to put forth the concept that I am some expert in communications in relationships…heaven knows, that can be a challenge for all of us from time to time. My intention is to share this information because I learned it from one of my mentors years ago and it has helped me in my communications in all kinds of relationships, personal and professional. In our own way, we are all experts in communication, at least in the way that we learned it. The issue can be, that most of us learned it differently, from different parents, and from different cultures…when we confuse observations with assessments, that can be a set-up for problems. It can be simple to correct, once we are aware of when we are doing it.
First, what is an observation? As simple as this sounds, it is nothing more that what we can see, hear, smell, taste, or touch. It involves our senses. We can see someones body language and facial expressions; we can hear someone speak or make a noise; we can taste a glass of wine. What happens many times is that we humans will then associate some meaning to that observation. This is normal and we will do this unconsciously. Some people call this, “making stuff up.”
Second, what is an assessment? When we make that link in our minds of putting a meaning onto our observations, we have just made an assessment, or formed an opinion about our observations. Here are some examples…when I observe another person smiling, I can make an assessment that they are happy. When I observe a person crying, I can make an assessment that they are sad or hurt. When I observe a person with a blank face, I can make an assessment that they don’t care what I have to say.
Isn’t is possible that my assessments are incorrect? Is it possible for a person to be angry and still smile? Can a person be crying and be very happy? Can a person have a blank face and still be considering very deeply what I am saying? Of course they can…
Here is what I was taught, and I offer it as a communication tool. When I observe something; let’s say that a person that I am speaking with has a blank stare on their face, I would say something like this, “My observation is that you have a blank stare on your face, my assessment of that is that you have no interest or do not understand what I am saying…is that a true assessment on my part?” Then listen to what they have to say.
This simple tool can open the door to a deeper level of communication and understanding between people and it can help us to stop “making stuff up” in our relationships.