Understanding Others: Getting Below the Surface

The Pixar movie, Inside Out, has been nominated for an Oscar for best animated feature film. And rightly so.  The film is about a young girl, Riley, whose family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco. The move is difficult on Riley as she had to leave her friends and beloved hockey behind. But this storyline is not what makes the movie special. We not only see Riley but we see her emotions – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust – working in the background showing the motivations for her actions and reactions. The film adeptly explores the thoughts and feelings behind the leading character’s choices. It is a glimpse into our minds, how we tick, what inner dialogues are happening, and what can happen when our emotions run amok.

inside out movie imageAfter seeing the original movie, I saw this version of Inside Out with all the inner thoughts edited out. The almost two hour movie is reduced to fifteen minutes. All of the inner conflict is removed. All of the insight into Riley’s decisions is gone. The depth of the movie is reduced to a flat surface-level movie about a young girl and hockey. This edited version is more like what we see in real life.

Throughout the day we are not able to see the motivations and inner dialogue of those we are communicating with. We only see their actions – or inactions. We make assumptions about their motivations. We sometimes feel there is something going on under the surface, but we are not sure what. Other times we assume – incorrectly – that everything happening is directly related to us. Without the inner insight into others, we often make incorrect assumptions which cause issues which were not there originally. Without this insight, we are blind to what is really going on. Without this emotional intelligence, we are ineffective friends and associates because we are not able to truly know what is happening.

How often do you get a chance to look under the surface with your loved one, friends, or work associates? Are you communicating solely on a physical world level or are you taking the time to dig a little deeper and see what is going on underneath? Do arguments and issues arise seemingly out of nowhere? Do these communication issues cause hardship, pain, and poor choices?

Here are a few ways to get below the surface in communications with others.

It’s Not Me, It’s You: A common breakup line is, “It’s not you, it’s me.” When it comes to communication issues, it is best to reverse that phrase. When we assume other’s actions, reactions, and inactions are in relation to ourselves, we are usually wrong. They have their own history, biases, fears, and issues they are working out – which usually have nothing to do with us. Remove yourself from the playing field and open your eyes to what may be going on with the other.

Remember the Titanic: A mighty ship went down when it assumed that the iceberg was only the small tip sticking out of the water. Never assume that what you see is all that is going on. We all have mighty icebergs below the waterline. Before jumping to conclusions with only what you can see, remember that there is a lot going on behind the scenes for each and every one of us.

Uncover Their Motivation: Most fights and miscommunications occur not due to the situation at hand, but because of our own fears, past experiences, and desires. Stop looking at the issue at hand, and instead look at the motivations and needs of the other. You may have a work associate who commonly takes credit for your ideas. Instead of getting angry and defending your ideas, first stop and look at the other’s motivations. Are they afraid of being fired because they do not have their own ideas? Are they so focused on moving ahead they are making poor choices and hurting others? Are they overwhelmed by responsibilities at work and home leaving them no time to think of their own ideas? When you can identify the deeper issue, you now have something you can resolve.

Own Your Own Baggage: You and your actions are also affected by your fears, past experiences, and desires. When you are triggered by someone else, take some time to look into why you are being triggered. Don’t look at the issue, but what the issue means to you. Is the situation affecting your self-esteem? Does is trigger a history of people mistreating you? Are you seeing the real situation or are you filtering it through you previous experiences? Before addressing any issue, but sure you are dealing with the present situation and not a version created in your mind.

As you move about your day, remember we all have inner dialogues happening. Stop focusing on the surface of what you can see. Dig deeper and begin to understand those around you. When you begin to understand others more deeply, you can also begin to understand yourself more deeply.

2 comments

  1. Hi Melissa and others,

    I am a missionary working with OCI (One Challenge Internationl) in Northeastern Brazil. My passion is to see pastors’ wives and other women in ministry being cared for through mentoring and small accountability type groups. I also have two books published in Portugese. They are compilations of articles written by women whom I asked to share about their lives and lessons they were learning.

    I loved this article and feel it would be helpful to many women who do not read English. Would you be willing to extend permission for it to be translated into Portuguese and posted on our blog? The blog can be found at mulheresemministerio.blogspot.com.br.
    Two of my closest colleagues in this ministry are Brazilians who have editing background and who have an advanced level of English comprehension.

    I have your book, From Type A to Type Me in print and Kindle format.

    Thank you,
    Barbara Lamp

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