Chances are very good that at one time or other, you’re actions or motives have been taken the wrong way
Why does this happen, and what can you do about it?
What’s the answer?
To help understand this frustrating phenomenon better, here’s a puzzle for you:
A ball and bat together costs $1.10. The bat costs $1 more then the ball.
How much does the ball cost?
Child’s play, you say? Before you get to the answer, try to solve this yourself.
Clearly, the ball costs, what? 10 cents?
Many people answer this puzzle quickly. They answer that the ball, in fact, costs 10 cents. And, they are wrong.
The ball costs five cents. The bat costs whatever the ball costs, which is five cents, plus one dollar more.
Ball = $ .05
Bat = $1.05
Total = $1.10
I know, high math is a killer, isn’t it?
What does this have to do with people misunderstanding you?
Lazy or efficient?
It’s been said by some psychologists that we are intellectually lazy or cognitive misers. Not sure either phrase is more complimentary, but it does help explain why
- Many people get the ball and bat puzzle wrong
- Many people can misunderstand you
Nobel Prize winner and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow Daniel Kahneman writes that we have two systems for thinking.
System 1 uses shortcuts and is automatic and effortless. It helps you quickly make decisions about whether the hundreds or even thousands of people you would meet in a crowded city are friendly and safe, or scary and need to be avoided.
System 2 is conscious, rational, deliberate, and effortful thinking. It’s what you’d go through if you needed to make a life-changing decision, such as pledging your troth to your sweetie pie. Of course, such decisions call for greater care and attention.
You’re misunderstood for the most part, because life is busy, fast, and demanding.
Gotta know fast!
People, alas, aren’t studying the book of you, and they need to make split second decisions about your friendliness, or scariness. And this decision is made some research says in about seven seconds. Some Princeton psychologists suggest it could be even less than a second. Yikes!
Other reasons you’re misunderstood
In 9 Reasons It’s So Easy to Be Misunderstood, published in Psychology Today, several of these nine reasons Leon Seltzer, Ph.D., sites make a lot of sense.
For example, if the other person is tired, has a physical barrier that makes it hard to understand your words, or if her mind is wandering, it’s going to be hard to catch your meaning or even your intention.
Other reasons Seltzer includes are: the fact that you could remind them of someone that they don’t like. It’s unfortunate, and even unfair, but possible, yes?
Haven’t you ever met people you liked right away? You can’t explain it, there’s something about them that you find friendly, interesting or appealing.
You probably also have come across people that for whatever reason, prompt a negative reaction.
Wish it weren’t so, but it happens.
What’s a person to do to be better understood?
In her book No One Understands You and What to Do About It, Heidi Grant Halvorson, Social Psychologist at Columbia Business School, notes that people who are easy to figure out, because they send clear signals, are happier, and more satisfied in their lives than those who are difficult to read.
You’re solution: Be transparent about your motives. Do NOT assume people get you. Tell them what you want.
Halvorson makes a suggestion not for the fainthearted, but for those who are ready to handle the truth.
Insight you can use
Ask someone who’s opinion you respect, someone who will tell you the truth, to finish this sentence: “If I didn’t know you better, I’d think you were. . . . “
Feel free to ask more than one close friend.
And by the way, do not make excuses for whatever they say. For example, if your friend tells you, “If I didn’t know you better, I’d think you were unapproachable.”
Do not follow up with “Oh, I’m just shy.”
Your follow up question
Do follow up with “What do I do to come across as unapproachable?” And listen carefully to the answer.
A great way to prevent people from ever telling you the truth again is to come across as though you’re arguing with their insight or becoming defensive.
Are people reading you wrong?
In the article The Art of Reading People: 3 Techniques to Ignite Your Super-Senses on her blog, Psychiatrist Judith Orloff, offers several tips that will help you not only understand others better, but positively influence how they see you.
Sense impressions are formed so quickly, it’s fair to assume that people are judging you first by how you look.
To the extent that you’re able, and you’d like to make a good impression on others, be sure to be dressed and groomed appropriately for the setting and occasion.
What are you saying nonverbally?
Pay attention to your facial expressions, and be assured if you’ve got something troubling on your mind, people will assume your upset with them, or in general an anxious person. Again, might not seem fair, but people are doing that System 1, fast thinking technique.
Also, remember your posture, and that body language conveys so much information that you might not intend to convey.
A couple of years ago, I had back to back seminars and was on the road for three straight weeks.
By the last day of the third week, I felt weary. Not upset, not sad, just weary. I was feeling the stress of having to go into a room full of strangers and needing to create community quickly so our seminar went well.
If you’re an introvert, you get that doing this can be challenging.
I remember thinking: “I don’t know these people, but I do know from experience, that if they’re taking the time to come to this seminar they are people I’d probably like to be friends with.
So as I greeted each person that morning, I said to myself, “Hello friend.” “How nice to see you again.” “What a wonderful surprise to see you here.”
It was the very first time I had ever done that. The day was a joy.
Others picked up what I was conveying without a word
But wait, there’s more. At the end of each of my seminars, the participants fill out a survey. Five people made comments like this: “I felt like Crystal was a long time friend.” This is amazing because although the comments had always been lovely, no participant that I had just met that day, had ever mentioned feeling that we were long time friends.
It’s as though they picked up on my attitude towards them.
Think about it. And consider thinking of people you meet as dear old friends. You’ll find yourself comfortable with them, and they will feel the same towards you.
Final freeing tip
Wouldn’t it just be a perfect world if people didn’t judge each other?
What can you do, though, to improve your corner of the world?
Give everyone the benefit of the doubt. If you find yourself starting to judge others, ask, “When I’ve been wrongly judged, what have I wanted people to do?”
I’m thinking your answer would be: “I want people to give me the benefit of the doubt.”
Let this be our final thought, then: Imagine how much better your life would be if you gave everyone the benefit of the doubt.
Not only would they feel better about you, understand your motives better, and like you more, you’d feel better about them, and yourself.
What do you do to understand others better? Or to come across in the way you intend? Add your comments below.