Misunderstanding Comes Easy

Now you may be asking yourself, if even married couples can’t understand each other – and if even the President of the United States, with his
team of communications professionals, doesn’t come across the way he intends to—what hope do I have of ever getting my boss to see my potential, or my colleague to see how hard I work?

Heidi Grant Halverson, No One Understands You and What to Do About It

As I presented my synopsis of No One Understands You and What to Do About It by Heidi Grant Halverson, I asked everyone to take out a pen, and write this prominently on their handout:

Misunderstanding comes naturally.
Understanding takes work.

I think Why No One Understands You is one of the more important books I have presented lately. Because, everyone – everyone I know, in every arena, including… me – has trouble communicating their thoughts and intentions clearly, and has equal trouble understanding communications from others.

And, this difficulty leads to far more than hurt feelings (although, it does lead to that) – it leads to lost business, lost productivity, lost opportunity.

Why so much misunderstanding? Here are some of the reasons identified in the book:

  1. You really are hard to understand.
  2. The Transparency Illusion – we assume we made our intentions clear when we spoke. We did not.
  3. Your actions are a matter of interpretation.
  4. People do not give enough attention to the task of understanding the other person.
  5. Confirmation Bias — when other people look at you, they see what they expect to see. Psychologists call this 
confirmation bias (for more on this topic, read this 16% post from April—Ditching the Dissonance). 
  6. The Primacy Effect — our early impressions of a person can hold far too much weight and can lead us astray when 
they paint an inaccurate picture. Psychologists refer to this as the primacy effect; a perceiver’s first impression of 
you is likely to be a lasting impression and to influence how he or she interprets everything else about you.
  7. Stereotypes — At its most basic, stereotyping is a form of categorization—something human brains have evolved to 
do swiftly and automatically.
  8. The Halo Effect — The tendency to assume that someone possesses other positive qualities from the presence of a 
single, powerful positive quality is called the halo effect.
  9. The False-Consensus Effect — Other people think and feel what I think and feel. …It takes a lot of work to get it right. 
But a lot of work is the last thing the cognitive miser wants to do.
  10. We are all “Cognitive Misers” — spending as little of our mental energy as we have to in order to get the job done.

In her book, Ms. Halverson identifies two kinds of people:

#1 – The “Promotion-focused” People — eagerness
#2 – The “Prevention-focused” People – caution

And, she recommends how to “undo” a “bad” first impression – over-perform in the unexpected way!

  • e.g., If you’re always late, arrive one-hour early, consistently, for an extended period of time

And here are my lessons and takeaways from the book:

#1 — People will not understand you. Accept this – and work at being more “understandable.”
#2 — You will not understand other people. Accept this – and work at understanding other people much more accurately 
and effectively.
#3 — Every interaction carries baggage, requires understanding of context, and understanding of intent and purpose.
#4 — We really are perpetually comparing ourselves to others – accept this.
#5 — You really need to excel at communicating this: “You can trust me because: I am a person of empathy; and I am 
competent and can get things done.” 

#6 — Learn to apologize well. (You will make mistakes – even big ones).
#7 — Show some modesty (avoid arrogance; aim for humility, yet with appropriate self-confidence).
#8 — And, don’t forget/neglect the challenge of self-discovery and arriving at genuine (relatively accurate) self-knowledge.

If you interact with others, at home, at work, or anywhere else (and, obviously, you do), then this is the book you probably need at the top of your reading stack!

Or, to put it another way, this wasn’t just a book worthy of presenting at our First Friday Book Synopsis. I needed to read it. And now, if only I can put it into practice…

Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

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