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The Skill of Social Perceptiveness

Being aware of others' reactions and understanding why they react as they do

A long time ago a business mentor of mine began to talk to me about being aware of what others thought, heard, and observed. He told me that there were six sides to every conversation.
1. What I wanted to say.
2. What I think I said.
3. What I actually said.
4. What others wanted to hear.
5. What others thought they heard.
6. What others actually heard

Over the past 25 years I have learned thru hard life lessons that my opinion and views were not always correct, and I could offend more people than I could win over by pushing my views too hard. I come from a very opinionated family that all attended church, and believed it was our way or no way. Through my early adult life I never had too many friends, and the ones I had came from a very similar upbringing.

I grew up in a very rural Upstate NY town where nearly everyone was a white Christian. It wasn’t until I began working in a call center as a manager in Charlotte, NC that I began to learn how vast cultures were in America. It was not just a race thing but a real difference in how people were raised and what they felt were important factors to having a happy, successful life. Even though I quickly realized the differences we all have, I did not understand how to interact with everyone around me. I found myself offending people again and again, and was offended myself multiple times. It was like being in High School all over again.

I began to think about what my business mentor had told me earlier on about the six sides of every conversation. If I were to master the skill of social perceptiveness I needed to start with me.

1. What I wanted to say: I began to think before I spoke. What was the point of my conversation and was the reason worth the damage that it may cause? Why did I want to say it, and would it be beneficial for those that I was going to interact with the hear it? 

2. What I think I said: This is where my upbringing came into play. I tend to say things that to others may sound very shocking and edgy, but to me it was just a way of life. I could yell at my brother or sister, and ten seconds later be laughing with them. Words never overtook true feelings in our family. But I found that words were very important to those who did not know you so I had to learn to speak as others may hear me.

3. What I actually said: I learned that if I thought before I spoke and listened to myself speak, I was better prepared to answer someone’s confusion of what they heard. If I did not know what I actually said, I could not defend what I said or clarify it very well.

4. What others wanted to hear: This was the tough one. How do you know what someone wants to hear before you say it? I found that observation of that person ahead of time and watching how they interact with others was the best method. Watch and see how they react to others so that I can develop a game plan to interact with them.

5. What others thought they heard: Everyone has desires and wants. People tend to hear what works best for them. Understanding what they like helps here. What are their wants and desires? Again observing ahead of time so you know how to present or interact with them.

6. What others actually heard: People are perceptive. You may say one thing and mean another. Never think that you can fool everyone all the time. It never happens. If you hit the first five points well enough, you should have no problem here.

The skill of social perceptiveness in no way falls solely under these six principles. But my father always told me that if I kept my mouth shut, nobody would know how stupid I really was. It was when I was about 15 years old that I found out that he was just paraphrasing an old proverb. It really is a matter of the heart. You have to care enough about people and their situations, and then put yourself in their shoes. How would you wanted to be treated and spoken to? How would you feel if someone attacked your culture? Master those two things and you will master the skill of social perceptiveness.


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