Career Skills for Today – Mindreading

Recently a GovLoop forum asked: “What one skill do you wish you had?”  The very first response was “Mind Reading.” In my July 14, 2010  blog, I wrote on the career skill Trend Spotting, or Foresight. So I just have to respond.

Indeed Mind Reading seems to be a Competency all by itself. Not to be confused with “second guessing,” I would define it in our work settings as finely tuned perception and communication skills to draw out the other person; to make explicit the expectations, desired outcomes and emotions. It may also include deadlines, resources available, along with consequences for errors. Other definitions call into play all five senses.  We all learn at an early age to read others expressions to know if they are happy, sad, angry, etc. We then modify our own behavior based on their mood.  Scientists at Stanford have new data on Mind Reading: Comparing  brain images to the “maps” from the first set of participants, the researchers were able to predict with 85% accuracy the correct mental state of the second set of study participants.

We all communicate through our own filters. These filters are built on our previous experiences, fundamental values, emotions and motives.  We often project our feelings and values on to others thus attributing a motive to them that is really our own motive. If they hold the same motive, we feel like we are “on the same page.”  If it isn’t, then we often walk away from the conversation with different outcomes!  The big mistake here is to assume we know the other person’s motive. So the ‘Mind Reading’ challenge is to first, become aware of the motive and second, to verify it by asking clarifying questions.

Accurately reading facial expressions and body language is a core component of Mind Reading. But Mind Reading taps our sixth sense, intuition.  Just as “The Mentalist” isn’t psychic, he’s  highly observant.  A good Mind Reader is attuned to both the present and past situations. In observing the current facts, she will draw upon her previous encounters with the person or a similar situation and see if there are connections.  Other connections may be drawn from putting the current facts into a larger context – even projecting into the future.  For example, you’ve used your Mind Reading abilities when you hear your colleague boss take a stand on an issue and you know it is based on her desire for early retirement.

We can enhance our capacity for accurate Mind Reading by becoming more self-aware of our own emotions and motives as we draw on our observations, our memories, our powers of reason, and our deep pools of emotion to  make educated guesses about what another person is thinking and feeling. By being more attentive to the subtle and overt expressions of others, we get outside of ourselves and are able to help others express what they may not be able to say.  Mind Reading requires knowing when to probe and when to leave well enough alone, an old-fashioned virtue: discretion.

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