Are You Making the Usual Error?

Usual Error Book CoverI love talking with boards. Board members are caring individuals who volunteer a ton of time because they want to make a difference. And I love encouraging their highest potential to make that difference!

During my first meeting with a board, I ask them, “Do you have a code of values?”

More often than not, the answer is, “Well yes, but it’s not written down.” Which is to say, “No.”

The reason that answer is “No” is that when tough decisions have to be made, board members realize they have assumed everyone else in the room shares their values. When they learn that is not the case, that’s when the sparks fly!

Pace and Kyeli Smith have a name for that situation. They call it The Usual Error. And their book, The Usual Error: Why We Don’t Understand Each Other and 34 Ways to Make It Better provides an effective guide to both identifying when The Usual Error is making communication difficult, and then addressing it head on.

So what is “The Usual Error?” As the authors explain it, The Usual Error is “assuming other people are just like you.”

According to Pace and Kyeli, all communication problems can be traced back to that one simple assumption. I assume you are thinking and feeling what I am thinking and feeling. And when it becomes clear that you are not, all hell breaks loose.

I love this book. It is a delight to read – short and to the point (under 200 pages), with stories and examples throughout (one of which Pace & Kyeli act out in the podcast below). The sections are broken down as follows:

Part I – Communication Dynamics
Part II – Boundaries
Part III – Turning Conflict into Communication
Part IV – Conflict Resolution
Part V – Positivity!

I confess I spend a lot of time coming back to Parts 3 and 4. Each time, I smile at how simple it is to see what is really going on when those tense communications occur.

The answers are found in simple strategies like asking, “What did you intend?” when someone’s words have hurt us. Or taking a moment to acknowledge, “Hey – we’re on the same team here!”

I have found Pace and Kyeli’s 34 strategies to be helpful in so many circumstances. The approaches have helped with communication between Dimitri and me – two VERY different people who have been working and arguing joyfully together every day for over 20 years.

The approaches have added substance to the questions we ask clients. And they have added substance to what we advise clients to ask of each other and themselves. (We then encourage them to get copies of The Usual Error!)

It all comes back to the fact that whenever we communicate, two conversations are going on at the same time. We may think we are only talking with the other person, but we also have our own conversation going on inside our head. (The cover art for the book shows this so clearly, thanks to the artistic line-drawing wizardry of Martin Whitmore, who illustrated the book).

So here’s my recommendation
1) Go now, buy The Usual Error and do what it says.
2) Listen to the fun interview I did with Pace and Kyeli late last December, where they act out a typical communication problem – and where they introduce their latest endeavor, The Freak Revolution!


2 thoughts on “Are You Making the Usual Error?”

  1. Just tripped on link to this post via Pam McCallister. Great interview and glad to visit “Freak Revolution” The Freak Revolution Manifesto is worth a read.


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