Paying attention and happiness (part 3) – other-awareness

Hello and welcome to this month’s neuro blog! Last month, we discussed how paying attention to yourself – self-awareness – can benefit you in terms of enhancing your emotional intelligence but also bolstering your resilience and adaptability. In addition to making emotional self-management smoother, I have noticed in folks gaining in and practicing self-awareness a quietening of the mind, a stronger sense of self, greater acceptance of life’s daily irritants and a lesser reactivity overall. A third benefit I have noticed from paying attention to oneself is that it also boosts motivation, increasing self-determination and therefore improving one’s goal achievement prospects.

Let me now invite you to look at the other side of the coin: other-awareness.

For me, the bridge between self- and other-awareness is called “tolerance“. If you practice self-awareness and accrue the benefits listed above, then tolerance – for the vicissitudes of human experience, for your own foibles but also for others’ oddities, should be a natural by-product. Combining tolerance with the recollection that we each of us read only our own individual newspaper and perceive reality through a filter we are mostly unaware of (read about your brain as newspaper for more on our ‘newspaper syndrome’) should yield the understanding that not only are shared beliefs unlikely, but that disagreement is in fact what we should expect.

So what? Even if we can now better appreciate that differing opinions, and consequently, divergent behaviours are the more probable scenario, even if we can be less upset that others don’t hold the same views we do and don’t operate as we would, disagreement is still rather impractical, isn’t it? How do we get around it – so we can reach out and share of ourselves, so that we can feel close to others, understood? And of course, in a work context, we need to be able to throw off disagreement to collaborate effectively. Let me suggest a two-pronged methodology to dispel disagreement.

On the one hand, interrogate reality. On the other hand, actively listen. What do I mean?

Interrogating reality means asking the other person about what’s going on for them. It’s about noticing that you two are not on the same page – either because their words or their behaviour do not resonate. Stop the mind-reading: when something does not land well with you, don’t blame, don’t disparage – remember that you have no idea what’s in their newspaper. When I was training as a coach, I learnt about the right to be misunderstood: when someone’s views or actions seem unfathomable, don’t think them idiotic: they’re just exercising their right to be misunderstood.

Put on your metaphorical Detective Columbo raincoat (no need for the cigar nor the dishevelled appearance) and go look for the other’s person’s inner landscape: ask open questions to give them the space to tell you how they’re looking at the issue at hand and let a new reality emerge – theirs. As they share their perspective, notice the points you have in common so you can say something like: “I can see that we agree on ABC so the only gap is XYZ”. Just like with a venn diagram, you will get a sense of where your two realities overlap – and by how much. Understanding the other person’s viewpoint will enable you to zoom onto the area(s) of disagreement, to illuminate them and deal with them – either to find a joined-up position or to agree to disagree.

I appreciate this may sound overly simplistic and indeed, the doing is usually more challenging than I represented but the key ingredients are here:
1) don’t assume they think like you, behave like you, have the same values as you or even ascribe the same meaning to words as you do,
2) go on a fishing expedition, asking open questions as you cast your net far and wide, and
3) illuminate the gaps and address them one by one.

Next month, we’ll continue with reminding ourselves about active listening. Till then, happy fishing!

If you’d like to tell me about your behaviour and/or your brain, you will find me at In the meantime, relax and let your brain look after you!

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