The world throws so much information at us that we have to filter much of it out, just in order to cope. We need to focus on the most important things for us – and the filtering process happens automatically without us being aware of it. For example, people reading this book will tend to filter out:
- some noises (like that of road traffic or a ventilation fan)
- some feelings (like the softness of a sock, or the hard feedback of a mouse click, or the temperature of the room)
– until, just having read this paragraph, it draws their attention to them again.
As well as temporary filters like these, we all have well-established preferences for the type of information we tend to allow in or block out. These standard sets of filters and determine what we notice, what we react to, and how we communicate. Examples of common filters are:
- some people focus primarily on what they see, some listen mainly to what they hear, and others emphasize what they are feeling
- some people are driven by what they want to achieve, and others by what they want to avoid
- some people are mainly interested in details, while others are more interested in large concepts
- some people notice the similarities between situations, while others notice the differences
The key point is that differences in filters are a major cause of misunderstandings and this can lead to problems in relationships. Painting a picture for someone who listens for information is unlikely to be productive. Describing big ideas to a person who needs detail to assimilate information is as challenging as providing tiresome detail to a conceptual thinker.
Simple differences like this are at the heart of many poor relationships. We are suspicious that the other person is acting deliberately to undermine the relationship, but most of the time they are as innocent and mystified as us.
We will explain filters more comprehensively elsewhere. For now, all you need is to be aware of them, and to know is that they are a primary – yet completely random – cause of poor communications and troubled relationships. This awareness makes the positive purpose question more credible: when someone else acts in a way that troubles us, it doesn’t necessarily mean that their motivations towards us are negative – they may just be operating to a different set of filters.
Another potential cause of difference is values, and we will introduce these next.