No One Understands You and What to Do About It

The uncomfortable truth is that most of us don’t come across the way we intend. We can’t see ourselves truly objectively, and neither can anyone else. Human beings have a strong tendency to distort other people’s feedback to fit their own views. We know this intellectually, and yet we rarely seem to recognize it as it’s happening.

That can cause you big problems in your personal and professional life. People may not trust you, may not like you, or may not even notice you, as a result of these errors in perception. If you have ever felt yourself misjudged, if you have wanted to cry out “That’s not fair!” when false and hurtful assumptions have been made about you, then you are right.

The way we see one another is far from fair. In fact, much of this process of perceiving other people isn’t even rational. It is biased, incomplete, and inflexible. It is also largely (but not entirely) automatic.

There are some assumptions so universal and automatic that you can count on other people making them about you (and you can count on people to have no idea that they are doing it):

  • You are who they expect you to be, in light of their past experience with you.
  • The first impression you give is the “right” one, and it shapes how everything else about you is perceived.
  • You are like the other members of groups to which you appear to belong.
  • If you have a very positive trait — if you are smart, beautiful, funny, kind, and so forth — you are likely to have other positive traits.
  • You share the opinions, feelings, and foibles of the perceiver, but not necessarily his or her ethical standards and abilities.

So you’re never really starting from scratch with another person, even when you are meeting them for the first time. The perceiver’s brain is rapidly filling in details about you –many before you have even spoken a word. Knowing this gives you a sense of what you’ve got going for you and what you might be up against.

Summing-up: The more you can know in advance about your perceiver’s likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses, the better equipped you will be to anticipate what’s being projected onto you.

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