Life Coaching And Understanding Others

The ability to understand others is a very important aspect of life coaching. It’s valuable not only as a life coach when working with a client, but it’s a critical communication skill that you can help your clients develop.

Let’s take a look at some life coaching perspectives when we look at someone else’s perspective…

“How can anyone be so thoughtless?”
“That was a really rude thing to do; this guy is a real jerk.”

Have you ever found yourself thinking such thoughts about someone else’s behavior? Probably. Many people say things like this (or worse) when they see someone else behave in a way that they don’t understand.

It is normal to question what we don’t understand. A problem develops, however, when we start making assumptions about the person who performed the questionable action.

As a general rule, we understand the basic reasons why we do what we do. There may be some deep, psychological reason for why we don’t like X, but we do like Y, but many people don’t have that level of understanding. In some cases, we don’t need to know anything that deeply.

We get up and go to work. We get ourselves fed and we engage in some basic elements of housekeeping. It usually isn’t necessary to question why we prefer pasta to rice, or Ford to Chevy. We understand we like certain movies better than other movies and one form of music over another. These are preferences we have developed over our lives and we recognize that everyone has a different set of preferences. We know people are different.

We know that, but we don’t always think about it. In fact, even though we know that other people have their own ideas, attitudes and opinions, we don’t always give other people credit for having different ideas.

The following example may be a bit exaggerated, but it is used to explain a principle, so go with the ideas, not the example exactly as it is written.

Suppose, for example, that you have been going to a store for several months. In all that time, maybe you had to return an item, for whatever reason, once. Just for example, suppose the manager on duty at that time gave you a hard time. You were upset at the store, but, over time, you stopped thinking about that incident.

Now, you need to return another item, possibly for a very different reason. There is a new manager. You go to the return desk and maybe you are a bit “difficult”, because you expect to get the same treatment you got when you returned the first item. Things were better for you this time, but you are thinking that they worked for you because of your behavior. You are thinking this new manager must be a jerk, simply because the first manager was. You thought you needed to behave this way because that is what you learned from your earlier experience.

Even if you wouldn’t behave this way, can you understand how someone might think and behave that way? Now, let’s look at this a bit more closely.

You, returning the item, believe you have a reason for behaving the way you do. You aren’t generally a difficult person, but you believe that being difficult was necessary. You think you are a reasonable person and the managers at the store are just “jerks”. What do you think the second manager is thinking?

The second manager has no idea why you are behaving this way. Perhaps you did mention the earlier problem. Even so, the second manager believes that YOU are the jerk and he/she is behaving appropriately.

So, who is “the jerk” in this situation? Depending on the person being asked, both people are “jerks”.

How can this be? In the next article, we’ll explore this further along with the Fundamental Attribution Error.