Are you being the person you want to be?
Are you being kind?
Are you being honest?
Are you being trustworthy?
(Are you being evil?)
More importantly how do the people in your life perceive you as being in any given moment? What sort of feedback have you received from your managers, your peers, your friends or your family and does it align with how you want to be seen?
The answers to these questions could provide insight into the quality of your leadership, your communication and your relationships.
If you are having difficulty in a relationship or in your communication, your primary focus might be on what the other person is doing or how that person is being. In fact, you will almost certainly be more judgmental of their behavior as it impacts you than you will be of your own behavior as it impacts them.
Situation versus Character
In Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen’s book Thanks for the Feedback, they describe the psychological effect of how we perceive all of our behavior as being situational while everyone else’s behavior as character.
Imagine for an instant that you are being confronted by a friend or family member for being on your phone instead of being present.
Let’s assume that you are checking your phone because there is something happening at work or in your family life that demands your attention right now. Maybe you don’t want to be on your phone, but you feel that it would be irresponsible not to be available to whoever is trying to reach you.
(And for the sake of argument, let’s assume that you aren’t watching videos of white people dancing poorly at various events.)
(like maybe the 1996 Democratic National Convention?)
To you the moment that you go on your phone to check the message is a necessary evil, to everyone around you it is just disrespectful and perhaps they say something to you about it, like “Hey Chucklehead, get off your phone!”
You might feel chagrined and a little angry, but you put your phone down only to see that person checking his phone as though he were exempt from the same social norms. Seeing this might make you feel a little indignant and justifiably angry.
(Panda is very upset)
What is going on?
Well, let’s begin with the assumption that this person is not just messing with you. He actually doesn’t recognize that he just criticized you for doing the same thing that he is now doing. If you can accept this, then why is he doing it?
- Situational perspective: we see all of our actions within a context of how we interact with the world. Every action that we take is essentially situational in nature in that it is almost always a reaction to something that has happened or something that we think may happen. Most (if not all) of our behaviors are based off of what is happening around us (or inside us) at that moment.
- Behavior as character: unfortunately for us, all of our behavior looks and feels to others like character. Since we have no understanding of anyone else’s situational experience, and since we live our lives responding to the situations outside of us (as well as our thoughts), we will almost always perceive other people’s actions as being about who they are as a person. You go on your phone when I am talking to you? Then you must be an inconsiderate jerk.
- Everything I do can be explained by what is happening around me.
- Everything you do is you.
So what exactly do we have control over when it comes to how we are perceived?
Answer: not much, and also a lot.
You have no control over the fact that people will misunderstand a lot of what you do and say based upon how they are perceiving you in that moment. Nobody cares what your intentions are, they only care about your impact.
What you do have control over is who you are being in that moment. There are two pieces to this:
- Who do I think I am being in this moment?
- Who do you perceive me to be in this moment?
If these two things aren’t aligned, then you have some work to do.
For example, if you need to be checking your phone for some sincere reason, you can tell people that is why your phone is out and that you might need to excuse yourself if you get a text or a call. If it is going to be really distracting, you may need to reschedule your meeting or step away from the group.
Or you may want to recognize that the people you are with are more important to you than what is going on at work or whatever drama is happening on your phone. Since you don’t want to be perceived as someone who disregards the people in his life, you may then choose to put away your phone for the remainder of the meeting (or the dinner, etc…).
Either way you are aligning your actions and your behavior so as to present yourself as the person that you want to be in that moment.
In order to be more aligned, however, you have to be willing to accept feedback from the people in your lives with the understanding that you may perceive your own behavior differently than others do. The more transparent you are about what is going on with you, and the more accepting you are about how you are being perceived, the more likely you will be able to align your behaviors with your character.
You will be communicating as the person you want to be.