You’re Not a Mind Reader, and Neither Are Your Friends (Probably)

In my last chapter, I talked about metaphors—now, I’d like to address the irony that lies in many of the processes tied to friendship-building. The greatest, and probably most obvious one is what I’ll call the “You Should Know That” phenomenon. This refers to the all-too-familiar thought process that we all have a tendency to fall into at some point during the friendship-making process, where we start to believe (and expect) that our friends are mind readers, who have the ability to deduce, without being told, everything we need and require of them.

In the early stages of friendship, we are not at risk of falling into this trap. In one of my Communication Studies courses this year, we went over “Uncertainty Reduction Theory”; the idea that at this point in the friendship formation process, the uncertainty in your relationship is at its peak height, and that the focus of all communication efforts is therefore placed on uncertainty reduction. You realize that you have to be explicit and clear about what you mean and need, and you never seem to run out of questions or anecdotes that may draw some piece of information or knowledge out of them that would help you get a better picture of who they are. 

Slowly (but surely), you get more comfortable around your friend, and start to (at times mistakenly) believe that there really isn’t that much you don’t know. Instead of asking them about every single detail of their life, you’re more focused on finding “natural flow”, and start to fill in the gaps of your knowledge about them with assumptions. These assumptions, whether positive or negative, will have a pretty big impact on the way in which your friendship evolved from there. 

In my own personal experience, assumptions such as these led to the deterioration of a friendship which might have otherwise survived. After a couple of weeks of meeting this friend, I had a whole list of assumptions, ready to soothe whatever uncertainties blatantly existed in our relationship; I assumed that when they didn’t respond to my greetings, they were probably listening to music very loud and didn’t want to be disturbed. I assumed that when they stopped telling me everything about their day and weekends, it meant they just needed a little space. I assumed that we were fine, doing good, and that they could see that I was just eager to get to know them better and all I needed was an indication from them that they wanted the same…and I was wrong. This whole time, I had been assuming that they knew what I was thinking, and that I had stopped approaching them as much because I had noticed (or perceived) a slight withdrawal, and taken that to mean that they wanted space. All the while, they had seen my sudden lack of questions and interest in their life as a form of judgement, of disdain and disinterest.

“[ C ] Francis Hyman Criss – Mind reader” by Cea. is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The hard-to-swallow truth is, you (probably) aren’t as good at “reading minds” as you think you are—even your friends’. It’s only natural to start letting assumptions rule your view of others, and it’s true that with a certain amount of time and friendship formation, some things can become more implicit than they previously were. However, it’s also important to remember that no matter how well or how long we get to know someone, we are never truly capable of seeing and understanding how they are feeling, at the very least not without communicating directly with them.

So what can you do? I guess the Golden Rule comes in handy here: treat others the way you want to be treated. It is important to learn to ask for what you need, and to make it clear to your friends that they can do the same with you. If you’re to build a long-lasting and fulfilling friendship, you both need to feel comfortable enough to tell each other how you really feel; you can do that by setting a standard for open and honest communication early in the relationship. Otherwise, you might be missing out on several friendships which you may assume failed out of an incompatibility between the two of you, and not the real, root cause:misunderstandings tied to a lack of clear, direct, and honest communication. 

Main Takeaways: 

  • As we get more comfortable around our friends, we stop relying on verbal communication as much and let our messages become more implicit—this can lead to a lot of misunderstandings and tense moments. 
  • It’s important to remember that feelings don’t always reflect reality;it’s important to talk to your friends about your feelings and learn to ask for the affirmation and confirmation you need from them. This will help you grow in your relationship and set the standard for an honest and long-lasting friendship.

By: Chiara Jurczak

Chiara Jurczak is a second-year student at Northeastern University where she is majoring in Political Science and Communication Studies. She is currently finding new ways to explore her passions for creative writing, publishing and political crises, and hoping to figure it all out sooner rather than later. In her free time, you can find her reading, baking, or trying to talk her friends into going on fun (and at times strange) adventures.

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