What to do when you’re misunderstood

What to do when you’re misunderstood

It feels terrible to be mis-understood; when something as clear and obvious as day is described as night by someone else.  When that person is a client or boss it’s even worse.

Why is it that people don’t get your point-of-view and what can you do about it?

Most common reasons people don’t agree with you

  1. They’re idiots! Clearly.  An Einstein, Hawking or Brin would follow.  So clearly they don’t agree because they’re bozos (not Bezos).  Don’t take this one too seriously though as it won’t help you be understood.
  2. They’re not listening. They’re preoccupied with an argument they had this morning with their boss or spouse (same person) and can’t give you the attention you need to get your point across.
  3. They have a different perspective.  They know something or see a consequence you don’t.  It could also be that they have contradicting or unhelpful existing beliefs e.g. imagine trying to explain the causes of climate change to people who believe in end times and all is foretold in the bible.
  4. They need more information.  You can’t get calculus without knowing algebra and similarly, your audience may not have a piece of information necessary to follow your story or make your case.
  5. They’re concerned about looking bad. Human beings will do desperate things to protect their social or political standing so take care there’s nothing in your proposal that makes them look bad.  If there is and you can’t avoid it, make sure there is something else that makes them look good.
  6. They have a political agenda.  Take care that you find out what it might be and that your idea helps take care of —or is at least neutral—any political concern.

Tips for when you are mis-understood.

If your goal is to be understood and have your narratives and interpretations accepted there are some things you must do or avoid doing when faced with initial objections.  Here are some of them:

  1. Don’t react.  Reacting is a biological reflex that can be controlled …with practice.  Learn to control your naturally defensive reaction to confrontation and disagreement as things only get worse with defensive reactions.
  2. Pick your moments.  As a kid you knew the right time to ask mommy or daddy for that thing you wanted. Take care to read the tea leaves for when to make your pitch; otherwise be prepared to influence the mood with jokes, good news or even flattery before you begin.
  3. Ask questions.  When hit with objections, asking questions to learn more is the best way to not be defensive while also getting the information you need to address their concerns.
  4. Throw them a bone.  Look for ways to make sure they get something personally out of your proposal.  Making something seem like their idea is always a good one, or making sure it’s clear they won’t be blamed if things go wrong.

The last thing I’ll say about this is that sometimes people will never see things your way and you will have to accept a continuing status quo.  Use such setbacks to assess the honesty and integrity of people vs. ideas.  On further reflection you may come to agree with their point-of-view, or you’ll learn more about the agendas and concerns of some people.

There are people in this world who are not honest, and you can use these encounters to learn who they are and who you can have on your team.  Live to fight another day and choose whether you go around or through those who have no integrity.

Photo by Tambako the Jaguar

Any thoughts? Contributions/acknowledgments welcome.