How do you know what you know? More importantly, how do you know what other people know?

Mind reading happens when we “know” what someone else thinks. In business and personal relationships this occurs all the time. “The boss is mad at John.” “Stacy doesn’t like what she’s doing.” We see and hear things, and often assume that others there make the same conclusions and feel the same way we do.

When we’re correct, it saves time and effort. In instances involving small teams that have a large shared background, it’s conceivable that “mind reading” correctly occurs more often than not.

When we’re wrong, bad things happen from delivering software the user doesn’t want to creating interpersonal problems. A two person team I’m part of (that’s been together almost 19 years) occasionally requires “un-wrinkling” after one or the other mind reads.

While designing an application several years ago, I suggested we contact the user and see what he wanted. I literally heard: “I’ve been doing this longer than [the user] has been alive. I know what he wants.”

This brings us to the handy Data Question: “What have you seen or heard that makes you think … ?”1 I use this question to help me understand how I know, and to learn how others know what they know. This questions removes the layers of cognitive filters, values, beliefs and shifts back to the primary experience.

The Data Question tends to be used historically. Something went wrong, and I’m trying to understand where, and why. Moving the question closer to the primary experience helps prevent lost time, effort, and hurt feelings.

The Data Question and questions like “What does this look like to you?”, “How will we know when we’re done?” help prevent mind reading and lead to happier clients.

So, what do you use so you “know what you know?” Add a comment or send me an email.

1 I first heard the Data Question from Jerry Weinberg.