Why Do We Often Misread How Others Perceived Us? 

Get Results: We judge ourselves by our INTENTIONS and others by their ACTIONS
Get Results: We judge ourselves by our INTENTIONS and others by their ACTIONS

Many people provide a true projection of who they are. They are true to themselves, and are easy to read.  What you see is what you get.

However some people can initially appear to have certain characteristics or attributes, but when we get to know them better, you find they are not really “like that”.

I consider myself a good judge of character, but occasionally I have had an instant dislike for someone, only to grow fond of them over time. Why have I misjudged them?

I have also had a view of myself, that has differed from the view others have had of me. How can this be?

How do we misread how others think of us? How can we think we are coming across one way, when indeed we are coming across completely differently from the perspective of others?

One example that jumps to mind from recent experience, is the boy racers that rev their engines, screech off from lights, wheel spinning as they go, only to be sat waiting at the next set of lights, when you catch them up. They deeply believe they are projecting coolness, male prowess and demonstrating what a catch they are for the opposite sex. When indeed they look immature, and quite ridiculous.

It can be a real problem, if we see ourselves one way and everyone else see us another, particularly if the two views greatly contrast. If we think of ourselves as warm , friendly , approachable, and likeable and others see us cold, abrupt, unapproachable and not very likeable there is a real disconnect that can be very problematic for our business and personal lives.

Now there is an element of showing your best side, when you first meet strangers, and showing your true colours later, when you get to know people better. But we’re not talking about this, we’re talking about the discrepancy of what you think you are projecting, compared to how others perceive you.

So why can there be such a disconnect for some people? Stephen R. Covey explained “We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions.”

This is where the discrepancy lies, we judge ourselves differently to how we judge others, and  how we judge others is closer to how others actually judge us.

When perceiving yourself you have lots of background information. You understand your intention, what you’re trying to achieve by your actions. You are more likely to blame situational factors if things don’t work out as planned. You are also privy to your mental and emotional state at the time, and their influence on your behaviour.

When you perceive others, particularly in relation to people you don’t know very well, you’re likely to consider their behaviour as much more representative of the persons underlying character, and a truer reflection of WHO THEY ARE, without much consideration for situational influences.

Likewise, this is inevitably how they will perceive you. They are likely to interpret your actions as an indication of your personality.  This difference in how we perceive ourselves versus how others perceive us, is referred to as the Fundamental Attribution Error or attribution effect.

It describes the tendency to overestimate the effect of personality and underestimate the effect of the situation in explaining other people’s actions.  For example, if you are in a rush, and cut someone off in traffic because you have to get to the hospital to care for a loved one, you will interpret cutting the person off as totally justifiable. You are not a jerk, in fact, you are trying to help someone. The person you cut off, however, will have no idea you are going to the hospital, and will likely think you are a jerk.

How we see ourselves is intrinsically connected to our self-image, which is developed through our life experiences.  A poor self-image can deeply affect our relationships and interactions in the world, which in turn, are perceived, by others, as being who we are, without the deeper understanding of why we may act this way.

A theory coined by Charles Horton Cooley provides us with insight as to how we see ourselves. The concept is called, “The Looking-Glass Self.”  As each individual interacts with others in society, a relationship develops. It may last only a few seconds, yet our perception of how others view us, shapes our image of ourselves. It is like looking to a reflective glass for a glimpse of what it is like to be “us.”  Cooley’s theory suggests our perceptions of how others see us, inevitably shapes our image of ourselves.

So if you find there is a disconnect between your view of yourself, and that of everyone else around you, there is a need to improve your self-awareness.  Be wary that your attempts to be appear confident, aren’t being misinterpreted as arrogance. That trying to appear witty isn’t being seen as sarcastic, cutting or uncaring.  Put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and try to be empathetic to their viewpoint.

Better still, don’t try to put on an act, and instead let your behaviour be a true representation of who you are, without the insecurities, and fears that might cause your behaviour to be undesirable. Embrace your inner being, and let your light shine through.

Check out my article about spirituality and wellbeing, that might give you some insight into letting your true self shine.