The unique brain
The brain is a connection machine. It encodes our thoughts, ideas, memories and experiences not as single static entities in a single given region of the brain; but as vast and complex maps of connections between higher-level cognitive centres, deeper-level hardwired skill centres and many other regions of the brain.
What’s more, that complex brain circuitry is continually remodelled by every thought, feeling and experience throughout our entire lives.
The result: near-unlimited ways the brain can encode experience, learning and information; and a brain circuitry like no other person on the planet.
The substantial differences between our brains are reflected everywhere: in the organisation of our environments; in the setup of our electronic devices; in our approaches to problems and projects. So given these observable differences:
- Why do we make so many assumptions about what others think?
- Why do we insist on attempting to make connections for others?
Thinking for others
The brain sees the world according to its own hardwiring.
One of the ways our brain copes with the sheer volume of information hitting our senses is to make whatever we are sensing or thinking fit neatly into existing mental maps by approximating, based on past experience. And when information doesn’t fit neatly, making it fit through deletion, distortion and generalisation.
One of the consequences of this can be exactly the types of assumption above: “knowing” what and how another person is thinking about a topic. But of course, we’ve no idea what another person is thinking.
And not only is it an error to make this assumption; it’s also a significant obstacle to that other person’s thinking. They need to be allowed to think things through for themselves – and make their own connections.
How to support others’ thinking
There are times when clear and direct instruction is needed. But if the goal is learning, development, encouragement, acknowledgement, motivation, confidence, commitment: don’t tell people what to think; help them to think for themselves.
- Let go. Temporarily cede some of the control, put aside your agenda and trust that they will find the best answers to their questions – for themselves.
- Make no assumptions. Not just about what you’re hearing; but also what you seeing, thinking and feeling. Think about the filters at play: both yours and theirs.
- Ask questions. Make enquiries. Come from a place of curiosity, interest and adventure. And make your questions open and expansive, not closed and directive.
- Watch for breakthroughs. Thinking is an observable event. When people make new connections, the energy release in the brain is reflected in their face and body language. Watch for this moment. Then build on it.
- Slow down. Just for this conversation. Give people space to think things through. Trust that their thinking will shift, given the right environment, questions, space and time.
Masters of inspirational leadership
As a leader, wouldn’t we all want to be described as, among other things, inspirational? Be that type of leader by learning to prioritise other people’s thinking.