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Communicating from Separate “Virtual Realities”

Getty Images  Photowork by Sijanto/Moment

Getty Images
Photowork by Sijanto/Moment

Why, even in our closest relationships, do we agree on some things and disagree on others? It’s because no matter how close we are to each other, we each still live in our own SEPARATE and UNIQUE “virtual reality,” which is shaped by our own individual perceptions and interpretations of the world around us.


This unique virtual reality is determined by the specific way our brain is “wired.” Our wiring, in turn, depends on a combination of nature (characteristics we are born with, some of which we have in common with most other people and some that vary from individual to individual) and nurture (our particular experiences from infancy on, especially our experiences with our parents or other caretakers).


How Nature and Nurture Influence Our Virtual Reality

On the nature side, we are born with certain traits that we share with other people, like crying when we’re hungry and laughing when we’re tickled. We also have specific personal traits, such as the genes we inherit. But much of our wiring develops from nurture; it is a blank slate that we fill in with the rest of our characteristics and abilities as we grow and develop.


This includes the attitudes we form. For example, we start out with a blank-slate attitude toward dogs and cats and, depending on our experiences, we may eventually turn out to be a “cat person,” a “dog person,” a “dog and cat person,” or a person who just doesn’t like pets. In the same way, depending on the experiences we have and the attitudes we develop, we may find some things funny and other things not funny, while others will have the opposite response.


How We Get Taken by Surprise

Sometimes we feel we have so much in common with another person that we consider that person our “soul mate,” and we assume our soul mate’s virtual reality is identical to ours. But each virtual reality is so vast and individualized that one person’s can’t possibly be exactly the same as another’s.


Think of each virtual reality as being as unique as a fingerprint. From a distance, one person’s fingerprint may look the same as the fingerprint of another person, but viewed through a magnifying glass, differences become clear. It’s the same with our virtual realities.


But unlike fingerprints, which we and others can see, virtual realities are an inner experience. Only one person can experience a virtual reality—the person whose experience it is. The only way we can learn about other people’s virtual reality is through our observations of their external behavior—that is, what they say and do—and they can only learn about ours the same way.

Adding to the complex nature of our virtual reality is that it is influenced by multiple levels of emotions, which contain conflicting feelings that we intentionally or unconsciously hide from other people and sometimes even unconsciously hide from ourselves.

Another challenging element of our virtual reality is that it’s never a fully developed finished product: every day we experience new things, and with these new experiences our virtual reality evolves; new aspects emerge and develop as we encounter new forks in the road of life.


When We Can Resolve Differences and When We Can’t

Every breakdown that occurs between two people’s separate virtual realities is caused by one of three situations:


1)             unfulfilled expectations;

2)             thwarted intentions; and

3)             undelivered communications.


When we experience one of these—when we expect something and don’t get it, intend to achieve something and don’t, or want to communicate a message but either didn’t say it or feel that it wasn’t heard—we often blame the other person for our disappointment and/or anger. When people can’t resolve a breakdown harmoniously, often it’s because one or both people want to dominate the other person—to “win”—declaring themselves “right” and making the other person “wrong.” That’s the nature of conflicts.


That’s why it’s vital to remember that a breakdown is simply a clash of two virtual realities seeing the same situation with different interpretations. To resolve a breakdown harmoniously, both people need to respect the other’s perspective and experience, as a starting point for finding common ground.

  • 12 Jun, 2014
  • Posted by Steve Fogel
  • 7 Tags

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