One of the most common errors I see amongst well-meaning people are errors of awareness. They’re people with the ability to influence and they only want to help, but they lack a fundamental awareness of how others will react. This is particularly unfortunate because their efforts go misguided and can harm rather than help.
The biggest sign that you may be a person who makes this mistake is if your results don’t match your expectations. You do something nice for someone and it seems to go unappreciated. You spend time with someone, but they don’t make an effort to see you again. Or maybe someone complains about something to you that seems like it has come totally out of left field.
All of us will have these sorts of things happen on rare occasions, but if they are happening on a regular basis, you are probably making a fundamental awareness error.
Usually this is the result of not thinking about second-order effects of your action. For example, maybe you introduce two of your friends, thinking that they might want to date, but you didn’t consider the fact that one of your other friends had a crush on one of them. Your intentions were good, but you didn’t anticipate the side effects.
Or maybe you share some exciting news of a friend, but you didn’t consider that maybe that was supposed to be more private news, and now you’ve made it public.
A more subtle example is when you fail to match the tone of a conversation. Perhaps the group is talking about a tough experience of one of the members of the group, but when you try to lighten the mood, it isn’t appreciated.
The solution to this problem is to essentially run a simulator inside your head. Before you say anything of any consequence, force yourself to simulate how the other parties will react. At first this will be a very cumbersome process and it will slow you down, but over time it will become effortless and automatic.
Pay attention both to the times when you are right and the times when you are wrong. Write them down after the conversations.
Let’s say you were going to introduce two friends to try to set them up. You should think about how both of them will feel as well as who in your friend group knows them and how they will react. You might predict that both friends would be happy to meet each other and that the few friends that know one or the other of them will not be indifferent. If the result ends up being different, write it down and try to figure out why.
It’s very likely that you have blinders on which are preventing you from having full awareness, or you are projecting your own personality onto others rather than anticipating their reaction.
Over time you will notice two things, hopefully. First, you will notice that it’s much easier to simulate people. You’ll skip through thinking about every single person and every single reaction, and jump to likely reactions from affected people. You’ll also notice trends in what you miss. Most people aren’t totally unaware, they just have a few blind spots.
Building the ability to simulate others’ reactions is incredibly valuable in many ways— with friends, loved ones, negotiating partners, and even strangers. It isn’t an easy skill to learn, but the payoff will be worth it.
Photo is a bell at the top of a pagoda in Taiwan, naturally.