“The lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.” — The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Look at this picture. What do you see?
If you’re like most people, you said something like, “I see a kid who is not listening to me. She doesn’t care what I have to say.”
What I see is a girl looking down and away with her cheek in her hand.
What’s the difference? The difference is between seeing something subjectively versus objectively. I described what I saw. I didn’t apply any meaning to it. I didn’t interpret the posture. If you answered like most people do. You answered subjectively — you interpreted what you saw.
Often, what we see is deceiving.
WYSIATI — What You See Is All There Is is what behavioral psychologist Daniel Kahneman might call a mind trap. In technical jargon it’s called representativeness. Representativeness describes our willingness to judge events by how they appear rather than by how likely they are. In other words, we jump to conclusions based on limited data. This is a particular sticky situation for parents and teens.
When one or the other, parent or teen, fabricate conclusions based on WYSIATI, then miscommunication and misunderstanding prevail. A teen finds something misplaced in his room and immediately assumes his parents have been snooping. A teen comes home late and the parents immediately jump on her, diving into a lecture about responsibility. Neither bother to uncover what really happened. Both jump to conclusions on limited data.
Meaning is obscured and communication is imperfect.
Sherlock Holmes, could be considered the antithesis of WYSIATI. He probed and questioned to discover what was below the surface. He understood that appearances and words are too often misleading. Like the pastoral countryside versus the squalor of the inner city, both have their secrets. As humans, we are not transparent. We hide things. We hide our true thoughts, our true feelings. We also infuse our experiences and biases into every situation. What you understand is not necessarily what I understand, even when we are looking at or hearing the same thing.
Reflect understanding to clarify meaning.
To adequately understand what is going on with another person we must be like Sherlock Holmes. We must have a flexible mind that seeks first to understand. This is so crucial as a parent, because we want to open doors to allow communication to flow. Too often though we unwittingly close doors because we assume we know what our children are thinking. We don’t bother to listen to what they’re saying, or not saying. We don’t bother to first check our understanding by reflecting back what we think we know.
Flexible thinking requires active listening.
Flexible thinkers strive to see things from multiple angles. They avoid getting trapped in WYSIATI. They acknowledge and accept the imperfectness of communication and seek avenues to improve their understanding. They reflect back meaning to see if they understand correctly. Despite their biases, flexible thinkers seek objective understanding.
So let me ask you again. What do you see?
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