Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

No One Understands You

We often assume that people see us as we see ourselves, or at the very least, as who we truly are. But that’s not true. In fact, hardly anyone gets you.

Back in 2012, Barack Obama ran for re-election and had his first debate with Mitt Romney. Being the sitting president, Obama carefully prepared his strategy and decided he would be presidential: composed, above the fray, and professional. 

The next day, The Guardian ran an article about the debate under the headline, “Republican candidate lifts conservative morale with a strong and forceful performance against a passive, lacklustre Obama.” Other renowned papers called Obama ‘listless’ and ‘lethargic.’ Even fans were left wondering if Obama had had enough sleep last night.

When the president read the news, he was shocked. He thought he’d nailed it.

But not even his supporters understood his demeanor.

So if even a gifted orator like Obama can come across poorly, it’s easy for the rest of us to make the same mistake.

One of the first mistakes we make is that we think our thoughts, intentions, and feelings are obvious. But actually… they’re not. They’re completely hidden.

The only information strangers have of you are: your words, your actions, and your body language. Do you have a resting bitch face? You’re in for trouble. While you’re just calmly listening to people speak during your office meetings, others are thinking you’re a grouch.

Luckily, you can use your words to clarify your feelings and intentions. Right?

Not always. Which brings us to our second mistake.

We assume that others are really paying attention and trying to understand us—but mostly, people are just trying to get the gist of us. 

And the gist is often wrong.

Mainly because it comes to us through what Daniel Kahneman calls ‘System 1’ thinking.’ Automatic thinking that happens beneath your awareness.

The thoughts you have about whether your latest colleague is: smart, a good dresser, charismatic, direct, honest, shifty, or warm? All handed to you by your System 1.

Unless you took a conscious stab at inspecting your colleague and asked yourself specific questions, like: “Is he educated? Can I trust his opinion? Does he get respect from his peers? Is he a loving person?” Then your impression of your colleague is completely made without your help.

The impression others have of you was probably made unconsciously as well. So how do you make that unconscious impression more accurate?

Buy and read Heidi Grant’s wonderful book. To not blue-ball you and send you in the right direction, here’s a simple tip to project trustworthiness:

Don’t just be competent, be warm.

If you’re in Matt Groening’s Springfield and need help, who do you go to? Lisa Simpson. She’s wicked smart, but also warm.

If you’re competent but cold, people will feel threatened by you. Why? Because you’re Mister Burns.

No one will ever completely get you. But if you ask colleagues and acquaintances what they think of you, you’ll get a better understanding of why.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach