Rita, a conflict coaching client, told me this story:
I stopped my car for a red light. One car was ahead of me. It was filled with teenage girls who were having a good time, and the driver was repeatedly turning and talking to the girls in the back seat.
The light turned green but the car ahead of me didn’t move. I waited for the driver to notice the green light. When it was clear she wasn’t paying attention, I gave my horn a quick peep. She turned to face forward, saw the green light, and took off.
As I pulled forward, a truck in the lane to my left, waiting for a green left-turn signal, honked at me. What a jerk! How dare he chastise me for gently using my horn to alert an inattentive driver!
I glanced at the driver of the truck in my rearview mirror. Boy, am I glad I did.
Because it turns out he hadn’t been honking at me. He was honking and waving at a guy walking down the other side of the street.
I tell clients and students that we inadvertently create some of the conflict in our lives by acting on assumptions we make of the other person’s intentions. Assumptions, it turns out some of the time, that were wrong. Just like Rita’s.