I was mowing my lawn the other day, lost in my own thoughts as I usually am when mowing the lawn, when I saw someone I didn’t know walking by. I saw him watching me and I found myself thinking he’s probably wondering why I am mowing in such an inefficient pattern. I wonder if I could do this better. It looks like it is about to storm at any moment, so I am trying to cover as much ground as I can before it starts to pour. Yes, my pattern is inefficient with respect to completing the lawn, but it is efficient with respect to getting more area mowed in a short amount of time….
And then I had to stop and laugh when I realized the huge projection I had just made of my own needs and insecurities onto this random passerby. This stranger gave me no indication that he really was thinking about my inefficient mowing strategy. That was entirely my own projection. There are many things I could have thought, but didn’t:
He’s probably hoping he gets back home in time before the rain starts.
He’s probably glad he got his lawn mowed yesterday when it was dry.
He’s probably wondering if I am going to continue mowing even when the downpour starts.
Isn’t that a neighbor? Hi.
and so on. Yet I didn’t think any of those things, I thought about my inefficiency, clearly indicating my own focus and hangups.
If the passerby had stopped to talk while I was still projecting, I might have offered a defense of why my apparent inefficient mowing strategy really was actually the most efficient thing I could be doing at that time. I might have said this even though the odds are this thought wasn’t even close to being on his mind.
These assumptions and projections fill our lives and flavor our communications with people all the time. Listen for them in yourself and in those you work with. Understanding these assumptions can help you correct them in yourself to be more open to what others really have to say. They also illustrate the nature of the lenses you have on the world. What is important to you? How do you see and judge yourself?
By listening for these assumptions and projections in others, you can tailor your words to both address their needs and get your point across in an easier way. When you find someone being defensive when you approach them about something, they are probably projecting their own anxieties on you. If you listen to what they are, you can better address them while adjusting your approach to get your issue in the mix, as well.
Efficiency, as the vignette above demonstrates, is important to Scot. He is naturally keenly aware of time and does not like to see it wasted. While this fixation has some generally good consequences, it can also hamper his ability to spend a bit more time to explore a different path, get people settled, or discuss how people feel about a given action. Luckily, there are both (and more) types in the world for us all to learn from. And occasionally, Scot even remembers taking the time to do these things can actually end up being more efficient in the end than not doing them.