Most of us take it for granted that we know those or the things we are familiar with. We often say that we know someone, while we had come across that person just once. Our built-in recognition system can sometimes play tricks on us, given us the false impression of knowledge and recognition. On the basis of recognition and knowing a person, we are sometimes led to believe that we can trust that person more than others, to communicate with that person in a certain way, or to be off guard. However, this kind of knowledge is most probably the result of our prejudices of thought. During our lifetime, we accumulate a “wealth” of prejudices, some of them are useful and some are a nuisance to us and to others. These prejudices relate not only to what we think, but also to the way we think. On the basis of faulty mechanisms of knowing others, we choose, consciously or not, our style and method of communication with others. The effectiveness of this communication is thus bound to depend on factors that are not under our control. Effective and efficient communication with others definitely requires a fair amount of knowledge of the other. This is valid for people, but also for organisations and institutions. If you want to assert yourself or yours ideas you definitely need to adapt your communication style and method on the basis of fairly good knowledge of your interlocutor. Otherwise, effectiveness is left to chance and luck.
The instinctive ability to have insight into and to know what is in another person’s mind is known as ‘theory of mind’. The conceptualisation required to have such ability is complex. We now know that a particular region in the middle of the prefrontal cortex springs into life when we deal with questions that call for a calculation about another person’s mental state. We also know that this region has wide-ranging connections to many other areas of the brain, in particular those needed to pull in stored information and personal memories. This background information is required in order to be able to read between the lines of a story or do guess the real motives behind it, rather than taking the story for its face value. Another important ability relates to reading expressions and feeling emotions. The lack of understanding of emotional responses from a given person renders it difficult to connect with that person and to strike the right emotional cords. On the contrary, this lack of knowledge may elicit undesired responses. In the face of all this, it is fair to say the effectiveness of assertiveness is highly dependent on our ability to know what is in another person’s mind, to foresee his or her emotional responses and to read to be able to read his or her reactions.
Cutesolutions, a Belgium-based provider of innovative training, has compiled and categorised interesting assertiveness techniques. On the basis of this research a deck a cards has been developed with the objective of providing a practical tool and an effective learning method for boosting assertiveness. A demo is accessible from http://cute4u.net:8082/myfiles/demo/1.0 The assertiveness cards fall under four major categories. The last category relates to people. In this category, various techniques aim at enhancing awareness about the importance of the ability to have insight into another person’s mind and emotional system. These techniques relate to both the unconscious emotional system and the conscious emotional control centre. The effectiveness of communication involving greater assertiveness and self-confidence hinges on own ability to know the interlocutor. Otherwise, communication would amount to barking at a passing train. Yet, I really wonder if people take the time to challenge their knowledge of even their closest partner. Just ask yourself how well you know a close person. I mean try to describe the way he or she thinks, his or her emotional response patterns and his or her facial and other body expressions.
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M'Hamed CHERIF is a holder of a Ph. D in economics. He has assumed a teaching function at the Free University of Brussels, and he has worked as a country economist at the World Bank in Washington, D. C. Since 1989, he has been working as a consultant in the development field, with a major focus on preparation and negotiation of macroeconomic and sectoral reform programmes, as well as developmental projects. Recently, he teamed up with his daughter, Sarah CHERIF, a holder of an university educational science degree, to develop a business in training on personal development and business management.