Do you really know what I’m thinking? Do you want to know?

In this final post inspired by a dreadful meeting David and I recently attended, I will cover a dangerous game played by some people. These people, none of whom are psychologists (or our counterparts in the medical field, psychiatrists), have an inflated sense of self and often believe other people share in their belief that they are good judges of character, “people persons,” or whatever colloquialisms they use in an attempt to elevate their status with others. The person with whom David and I met was completely certain he was making a positive impression on us and, near the end of our meeting, he boasted that he is such a good judge of character that he can tell, with 100% accuracy, exactly what people are thinking. Saying something this inane to me, a psychologist, is guaranteed to get a reaction other than the one that was intended! When faced with this situation (which has, surprisingly, happened to me on more than one occasion, due to the other person’s lack of knowledge about my occupation), one can react in many different ways, for example, with incredulity, angrily (“How dare you insult my intelligence!” or something similar), or like me, with mirth. In the presence of someone who is this clueless, I tend to laugh at the sheer stupidity of the thought of someone thinking he/she can read my inner most thoughts before intellect takes over and I choose another tact. In the situation that resulted in this post, I told the self described mind reader that I have met other people like him, including an astrologist who bragged she could predict jurors’ verdicts by knowing their zodiac sign (true story), but when I asked her to state my zodiac sign, she refused, despite having a 1out of 12 chance (pretty high odds!) of being correct. Due to the fact this was the same person who did not bother to learn my name, I told him that, if he knew I what I was thinking, he surely knew I was thinking about how he didn’t even know my name! If so, then he was right; he did know what I was thinking! If it was anything else, well, he was wrong, wrong, wrong. Be careful about making statements that people like me enjoy disproving; you never know when you might be outsmarted!

There are several takeaway lessons from the fateful meeting which prompted this series of posts. One is definitely “know what you don’t know.” A favorite professor of mine once told me about the difference between smart, and not so smart, people. The smart ones know they don’t know it all and try to learn what they don’t know. The not so smart, well, they don’t. Perhaps another is that some of those old adages have severe limitations. The person in question was operating on the theory of “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with b.s.”. People in social or business sessions can be evaluated on their self monitoring skills. According to psychologists, people are high or low on the continuum of self monitoring. The person in this case is a low self monitor, very low; he does not realize how he comes across and what people think of him. Good listeners are usually much higher on the self monitoring scale and adjust their behavior according to how they perceive the audience response, whether it is an audience of 1 or 1000. As trial consultants, we have had attorneys and claims adjusters tell us they know what (mock) jurors are thinking, but it is clear they don’t when they learn the results of the mock jurors’ deliberations. And, attorneys who are good in jury selection are good listeners. They know they don’t know what the venire members are thinking but they want to find out. By asking questions, rather than rambling on incessantly, they have a chance to find out. I sometimes wonder, when I encounter an attorney or claims professional who says they know what jurors will think, do they just not want to know? It can sure seem like it.

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