“If I were you, I wouldn’t do that.”
“I think if you were me you would do that because if you were me you’d do as I’d do and I am going to do that.”
“Oh well, I meant that if I were in your shoes, in your situation…”
It sounds a fine thing to put oneself in the other person’s place to try to see their point of view. But one has nevertheless brought along, to stand in those shoes, impressions and feelings and attitudes of ones own.
When we try to see the other person’s point of view, and sympathise with it we are really feeling for what we imagine to be their point of view. The trouble comes when they imagine what is our point of view and modify their own position in accordance with that.
I used to go every year on a reading party, and in the evenings several of us used to play chess. I have been a fairly strong player since my student days and there was only one opponent who could give me any sort of a game, so I always played against him. The weaker players had one or two games among themselves most evenings.
One year my usual opponent could not come so I was preparing to spend the evening in some other way, reading a book or going for a walk or run. But to my surprise one of the others came up and asked me for a game. I could easily beat him, but he took a long time over his moves, so our couple of games would take most of the evening. It was boring but I thought he wanted the chance to learn something by playing against a much stronger player.
So out of consideration I agreed to play. On the forth morning it happened that I was sitting on a garden seat just below an open window, and I overheard two people talking inside the room. One was my opponent who said: “Yes, I do ask him for a game every evening because I feel he must miss his regular game. But I don’t enjoy it at all. His pieces come swooping down and tear my position to pieces. But I feel that he is enjoying his usual game of chess”.
I could not help laughing inwardly when I thought how I was sacrificing myself for his supposed interest, while he was sacrificing himself for mine. I felt relief that evening as I told him that I didn’t feel like playing chess, and I got another inward laugh when I saw him trying to conceal his own relief.
After that my general rule has been to declare frankly my own self interest and then be prepared to negotiate amiably from there, rather than try to accommodate myself from the beginning to some supposed interest of the other side.
Surprisingly this leads too much less friction because self-adaptation is often somehow less fanatical than self-sacrifice.