Have you ever felt misunderstood?
The above may seem like a question with an obvious answer, but sometimes we can fail to “read the room,” so to speak. One of our most basic instincts is understanding the person or people around us. When we genuinely empathize with another person, our brains react in the same way they do when experiencing a similar event. We can put ourselves in others’ shoes and feel compassion for them when they suffer or rejoice over their accomplishments. But what happens when this skill doesn’t work correctly? What about those times when we just don’t get it?
What if someone appears distant and aloof yet feels misunderstood by everyone else? Or perhaps another person will negatively react even while thinking that they are being completely clear about their intentions and thoughts at all times. All humans have these moments, and it’s normal, but if we take the time to understand ourselves better first and then other people, maybe we can avoid many of these cringe-worthy moments.
Let’s start with the basics…
The first step towards understanding others is learning how to understand ourselves—learning what makes us tick and how we relate to the world around us on a personal level. It also means knowing our strengths and weaknesses and fitting in socially. An essential part of this process is reflection; constantly asking ourselves why we do things and how they affect us helps us learn more about ourselves and develop into the person we want to be. Once we have a firm handle on who we are as an individual, it becomes easier for us to understand others. However, it is not enough to predict what we want or need in a given situation – we must also consider the thoughts and feelings of those around us so that we can fit together like puzzle pieces and meet each other’s needs.
But how do you read the room?
First, take some time to think about your conflict styles. Everyone has their unique way of dealing with arguments based on experience and family of origin. For example, some people might break down into hysterical anger when they’re upset, while others will become very quiet and withdraw from the conflict altogether. Conflict styles are affected by our childhood experiences and gender relationships; boys and girls may react differently depending on how they perceive masculine and feminine traits. Since we all have different backgrounds, we must understand what our triggers are and those of the other people in the room to navigate any potential conflict more positively.
In addition to knowing your style, you also need to learn how to read others’, both by paying attention closely and watching for nonverbal cues. It may seem a bit counter-intuitive at first because if you’ve ever felt misunderstood before, you probably thought that if only someone would listen to you properly, then they’d be able to see things from your point of view. In reality, however, this isn’t always true because sometimes people aren’t ready or willing to share their past experiences with you, making them act out in ways that feel strange to you. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should let people take advantage of you – it’s essential to make sure that both sides are trying to understand each other.
Understanding our triggers and other people’s triggers is one step towards “reading the room.” To be empathetic means putting yourself in someone else’s shoes to understand their feelings, even if they seem incomprehensible or irrational. Once we’ve learned how to understand ourselves and others properly, we will read the room more accurately – avoiding misunderstandings and miscommunications along the way.