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Julian Shapiro
+ Your AuthorsArchive @Julian I deconstruct how things work—like storytelling and critical thinking—and share learnings along the way. Writing: Work: Sep. 27, 2021 3 min read

It's astonishing how many people suffer from the Typical Mind Fallacy:

“The typical mind fallacy is the mistake of modeling the minds inside other people's brains as exactly the same as your own mind.”

Fix this, and you fix big problems:

Typical Mind Fallacy becomes apparent in heated conversations:

"Always remember that to argue, and win, is to break down the reality of the person you're arguing against. It is painful to lose your reality, so be kind, even if you're right." —Murakami

In any conversation, the other person brings their life experiences to the table.

Their anxieties. Their upbringing. Their agendas.

This can cause us to interpret data and behaviors very (!) differently.

Therefore, to have a hard conversation, lead with curiosity—not critique.

Resist the Typical Mind Fallacy. (A term coined by Less Wrong.)

How do you do this exactly? How do you have much healthier conversations with people you care about?

You build the reflex to ask questions before making assumptions:

When you’re baffled by someone’s behavior, earnestly seek to figure out how they’re able to justify the behavior to themselves.

Ask yourself:

What would have to be true for their behavior to not have malintent?

This compels you to look for an underlying chain of emotional logic.

We can break this down into a few rules of thumb:

1. Don’t assume intent: Each party grants the other the most generous interpretation of their intent. Ask questions to verify.

2. Handle emotion before logic: Identify and show empathy for their emotions before addressing the logic at-hand.

(Many people won’t entertain a logical argument until they believe you’ve fully understood how they feel, why they feel that way, and that you empathize with it.)

3. Confirm you’re on the same page:

Once they’ve explained themselves, repeat their answers back to them as accurately and charitably as you can.

They’ll be relieved that they successfully communicated and that you understood them.

At this point, half the battle is over. Now:

4. Identify where your patterns, perspectives, and goals *differ.*

Keep asking questions to uncover where the differences emerge from:

• Do they have different expectations for how the world works?
• Do they have different goals?
• Do they have different assumptions about the facts?
• Are they just distracted and not being as considerate as usual?

You need both parties to be aware of these best practices—so that one can point out when things go wrong and the other can appreciate the feedback.

There’s an example from the book Nonviolent Communication of what this can look like as a four-step sequence:

"Imagine you’ve just discovered a pack of cigarettes in your teenager's car. To express your concerns, you’d work through four steps:

(1) Observe. 'Honey, I saw a pack of cigarettes in the car.'
(2) Identify and express feelings: 'I’m feeling very worried about you smoking...'

(3) Then connect feelings to needs: '... because I need to keep you safe.'
(4) Make a specific request: 'Can we talk together about the health risks of smoking?'" —NVC book

In any conversation, remember:

The person across from you has lived a life separate from yours. Their mind isn't your mind.

This reveals a truth about the human condition:

"Being human is a team sport."
—Douglas Rushkoff


Because we're not the same, we need to minimize our desire to be right and maximize our desire to understand.

Lead with curiosity—not critique.

You can follow @Julian.


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