In recent conversations with leaders, I’ve suggested a simple yet powerful solution to some of their challenges – asking ‘What do you need?’ of those around them. Surprisingly, in both instances, these leaders hadn’t posed this question. Why? Because they assumed they already knew the answer…

As humans, we often fancy ourselves as expert mind-readers, who are highly skilled at deciphering the thoughts and feelings of others. This tendency, according to The Wellbeing Lab, is our brain’s attempt to make sense of our environments, that can support us to connect with  individuals we trust whilst remaining cautious of others.

However, Professor Nick Epley’s research suggests that we are way too confident in our ability to mind-read. In reality, we often misinterpret others’ intentions, and due to our negativity bias, we can think unfavourably about what the other person is thinking. This puts strain on our relationships. What’s more, because we assume the worst, we tend to avoid the conversation entirely or we don’t ask any questions.

Consider your own experiences, how many times have you refrained from engaging with someone because you believed you already knew how they’d respond? And upon reflection, can you recall instances where your beliefs were wrong?

On the flip side, to nurture and strengthen our connections, we must resist the urge to make assumptions and instead engage in open dialogue. By slowing down, asking questions, and genuinely listening to the response without jumping to any conclusions, we fulfill the fundamental human need ‘to feel seen, heard, and valued.’

Not only does this approach foster deeper relationships, but it can also reveal insights and solutions that may be simple fixes or require nothing from you at all. So, next time, don’t hesitate to have the conversation. You might be surprised by what you learn, and you’ll avoid the time wasted trying to guess.

So go ahead and ask!