As if S.W.I.F.T. weren’t swift enough (read article for background), sometimes we just S.I.F.T. We still experience the Stimulus, Interpret it, have Feelings as a result and Take Action, but we totally skip the Wonder step.
Going directly from the Stimulus to the Interpretation is very common, and it’s a necessary innovation to help us make quick decisions in a busy world. It’s also an inevitable short-cut. Once you’ve experienced the same Stimulus a number of times from the same direction, it’s to be expected that you will make assumptions about the “why.”
But before we give ourselves credit for being astute observes of human nature and our environment, we have to admit that skipping the Wonder step can get us into lots of trouble.
For example, I once had a supervisor who used to praise me only as a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. (In other words, right before she was about to administer a “cure” for my performance.) I learned to distrust her praise, knowing that it was the equivalent of distracting me with candy so that she could stick me with the needle.
Fast-forward to a time when I reported to a different supervisor. This one genuinely praised me, but since I was accustomed to admiration with an agenda, I never believed that she was sincere and always listed for the “but.”
I was skipping the Wonder step, never pausing to ask myself why she was praising me, because my Interpretation was set from years of experience. I thought I already knew her motive even though it was a new supervisor altogether. Over the time we worked together, I always had difficulty trusting her, and it led to quite a few miscommunications.
Often times, we skip the Wonder step with those closest to us. After all, we know these people better than anyone else in our lives. Surely we shouldn’t have to Wonder why they do the things they alwaysdo.
But taking the same short-cuts frequently leads to ruts in our relationships. We are already responding/reacting to them before they finish what they are saying or doing, because “we know exactly where this is going.”
The biggest problem with this approach is that it signals to those around us that we have put them in a box. We’ve already decided what we think of them or the way they do things, and there’s really no way to change our Interpretation.
But what if they have changed? What if their motives are different this time around? What if the reason he’s calling this time is to tell you he was wrong? What if she wants to bury the hatchet and start fresh? What if they’ve had an experience that has changed their hearts? What if they have developed new skills that will make things different in how you relate?
By treating people like we’ve always treated them, we keep them as they’ve always been. Stopping to Wonder anew why they are doing the things they are doing allows for relationships to grow beyond their past limitations.
So, before you react to a Stimulus, stop and force yourself to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Assume positive motive on his or her part. Ask some questions to help clarify where they are coming from. Try to see things from their perspective. Avoid the short-cut; the scenic route is worth the extra time.