Let’s face it — it’s not particularly fair to complain about other people not really “getting you” when you aren’t really getting them either, is it?
And beyond that, there are obvious advantages to reading other people — their intentions, their feelings, and their character — as accurately as possible.
But you and I, as perceivers, are just as vulnerable to being influenced by faulty assumptions, biases, and lenses as everyone else is.
We’ve got the same mental hardware as everyone else, we have the same limited time and energy, and so we take the same shortcuts without realising it.
Only now, hopefully, you do realise it. And that’s half the battle. Awareness of bias makes it easier to mitigate or root out bias entirely.
I wrote No One Understands You and What to Do About It to help people understand why they are so often misunderstood, because it happens a lot.
But the truth is, not every misunderstanding is … well, a misunderstanding. Sometimes, the perceiver is seeing the truth about you, and you are the one with blinders on.
Really knowing yourself is harder than you might think. We don’t always have access to what’s going on in our own minds. And we are complicated creatures, with multiple selves to contend with. (Are you really the same person with your close friends that you are at work or with family?)
We also have particular motivations — we want to see ourselves in certain ways. There’s no objectivity in perception, whether you talking about perceiving others or perceiving yourself.
So how do you know if you are being misunderstood and misjudged or if you are fooling yourself? It’s not easy to know, to be honest. And it’s a topic that really deserves its own book.
But one piece of advice I can give you is to look for consistency across perceivers. In other words, if everybody — your friends, your family, your colleagues — is making the same “mistake” about you, then it’s probably not a mistake at all.
And then it’s time to go into Phase 2 for you, to question the assumptions you’ve been making about yourself and reconcile others’ version of you with your own…
Perceiving people — including yourself — accurately is perhaps the most difficult thing we humans do. People are complicated, and their words and deeds are riddled with ambiguity and open to interpretation.
We don’t realise that’s the case, because the way our brains are wired makes perception feel so obvious and effortless. But it’s neither — which is why we so often screw it up.
If you want to come across the way you intend to — to have other people see you as you (think you) are or as you’d like to be seen — you are going to have to give them a hand. Remember that it doesn’t help to blame the perceiver for getting you wrong. Instead, try making it easier for him or her to get you right.
Whenever you are forming an impression or making a judgment about a person, remember to use these strategies:
Take your time
Don’t rush to judgment. Keep in mind that your first impression of someone may be dead wrong, because there are always other possible interpretations of his or her behaviour.
Think about the circumstances and how they might have influenced the person’s actions (e.g., “Maybe Susan isn’t trying to be rude. Maybe she’s just nervous meeting new people, and her fear and awkwardness is making her come off poorly. She might be quite different once you get to know her.”).
Commit to being fair
Remember that we all (or, at least most of us) want to be fair, but that doesn’t mean we are actively pursuing that goal whenever we perceive another person. A simple reminder to yourself to be fair when you judge someone else is enough to activate the goal and diminish your unconscious bias.
Make it a mantra, something you say before you walk into any meeting. Stick it to your computer with a Post-It note. The more you consciously think about being fair, the more accurate your perception will be.
Beware of confirmation bias
Once we form an impression of someone, we tend to look selectively at his or her behaviour to find confirming evidence that our impression is correct, rather than looking at all the evidence available.
Imagine that you are considering two candidates for a management position — Eliot and Joanna.
You know them both, but not particularly well. You are worried that Joanna may not be assertive enough to be an effective manager — there was that one time that she seemed reluctant to take the lead on a project — so you are thinking of giving the promotion to Eliot. (The stereotype that women are less assertive may well be biasing your perception here.)
To evaluate this decision correctly, you need to consider four kinds of evidence.
Thanks to confirmation bias, we tend to look only at hypothesis-confirming evidence (i.e., instances where Joanna was not assertive — just one of the four boxes above) and ignore the rest.
So when you are making judgments about other people, make sure you are checking all four quadrants — considering evidence for and against your hypothesis and considering what other people have done under similar circumstances.
Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review Press. Excerpted and adapted from No One Understands You and What to Do About It by Heidi Grant Halvorson. Copyright 2015 Heidi Grant Halvorson. All rights reserved.
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