I’m forever shocked at how easy it is for us all to make assumptions about other people. We all do it, even when we try really hard not to. You can’t help but bring all your own past, your own opinions and your own baggage to conversations and assume others feel the same.
I’m on a course at the moment – Trauma Informed Schools & Communities, and this last weekend it struck me again that it is so hard to put your own assumptions aside and really hear what the other person is saying.
As an adoptive parent I’m often cautious about assuming that others feel the same way I do. Without asking we just don’t know. Even when you might feel a strong connection to another person for whatever reason, you can’t assume their experience is exactly the same as yours.
In her book Conversations that Matter Margot Sunderland talks about imagining into a child’s experience – their feelings, but also asking them how they feel or what their experience is. You can’t ever assume to know.
How powerful is it when someone can actually focus just on you?
I’ve been privileged to experience great coaching in my time and to me great coaching or a great listener is someone who can put their own feelings aside and focus solely on you. A sure sign of this is when someone actually uses the words you use instead of using the words they think you’ve said.
So, how does this manifest with children and young people? It’s so easy to put our thoughts and feelings onto them, especially when we are older and ‘wiser’ and can tell them the mistakes they may be making. BUT what happens when we do that is that we don’t actually really hear where they are coming from and their experience. This means that they don’t feel seen and heard and we also make assumptions that can take the conversation down the wrong path.
I come across this assumption thing all the time in the adoption world. People assume our children are happy to be with us, or that we now have everything we ever wished for. Or maybe they assume that our children want to talk about their past or that they don’t want to. We all make assumptions every day. I do it every time I pass judgement on a stranger I see in the street.
I read an article today saying that Michael Gove made a statement saying that poor people who have to use a food bank only have themselves to blame for their bad decisions! People often will say homeless people want to be homeless. On and on it goes. Passing jugdement on someone else is such a dangerous thing and yet so humanly natural that we all do it….
I guess what I’m saying today is the next time you think you know how another person feels or thinks take a step back, put your assumptions aside and ask. You may be surprised at the response. I would much rather someone asked me to say more about my experience of something then to be told how I should feel. The same for the children around you – they may not be able to tell you how they feel but listen to the words they actually use and ask them more about that.