Quit trying to read somebody’s mind

I talked with a pastor recently who said of one of his parishioners, “I assume he doesn’t like me.”

“Wow,” I said, “Can you read his mind?”

“Well, I can tell by how he acts around me that I’m not his favorite guy.”

“Hmm… Could be I suppose. Have you ever asked him about it?”

“Heavens no. You can’t talk to that guy.”

It’s easy to get caught up into trying to read someone’s mind, isn’t it? But where does that usually get us?

In their book “Emotionally Healthy Relationships,” Peter and Geri Scazzero say, “The 9th commandment reads, ‘You shall not testify falsely against your neighbor.’ Every time we make an assumption about someone who has hurt or disappointed us, without confirming it, we believe a lie about this person in our head. Because we have not checked it out with him or her, it is very possible that we are believing something untrue. It is also likely that we will pass that false assumption around to others.”

One way to stop mind reading and making assumptions about somebody is to initiate a conversation (with a church member, your spouse, a person you work with, a relative, a friend, a neighbor).

It might start like this:

“May I have permission to read your mind?”

Or you could soften it a little and say, “Can I check out an assumption I have?”

If the person says “yes,” you could say:

“I think that you think … Is that correct?”

Or, “I’m wondering … Is that correct?”

I meet with pastors a lot, and like everyone else, they can makes lots of assumptions and expectations that just aren’t true. Usually they are trying to read the mind of someone in their congregation.

Here are the main problems with mind reading or expectations. So often, they are:

Unconscious: We have expectations of others we don’t even know we have. But we don’t realize it until we get our feelings hurt.

Unrealistic:  Our expectations are unrealistic.

Unspoken: We may be conscious of them. They may even be realistic, but they are not spoken.

Un-agreed upon: These are expectations of others that they did not agree to, or they have expectations of us that we did not agree to.

Do you think you have the right to the expectations you have?

Here’s how I think you know:

Are you conscious of it? Are you aware of the expectation you have?

Is it realistic? Do you have evidence to support the fact that your expectation is reasonable?

Have you spoken it? Has your expectation been clearly expressed?

Have you agreed upon it? Has another person agreed to the expectation by saying “yes?”

Again, the point of all this is that trying to read someone’s mind, and sitting around wondering what a person is thinking, gets us nowhere.

There probably are some conversations we all need to initiate, and I’d encourage us to go for it. I don’t think you will be sorry for trying to be pro-active. In fact, you may be greatly relieved, as you realize your mind reading exercise was completely ridiculous.

So, here are your lines:

“I’d like to clarify an expectation I have about you … Is this correct?

“I expect … because … Can we agree to that?

“I wonder … Are you willing?”

“I’d like to check out an assumption I have made. … Is this true?”

A conversation like might just give real life to these words of the Apostle Paul: “Whatever is true, honorable, right, just, pure, lovely, gracious … if there is any excellence, anything worthy of praise, think about those things!” Philippians 4:8


(But what about expectations that are clear but just never get met? I have some thoughts about that I’ll share next time.)