By Joelle A. Godfrey
“You are never really starting from scratch with another person, even when you are meeting him or her for the first time. The perceiver’s brain is rapidly filling in details about you – many before you have even spoken a word.”
– Heidi Halvorson, No One Understands You And What To Do About It
After reading No One Understands You and What to Do About It, it would be easy to throw it across the room and give up. After all, the odds are against you. You’re fighting the cognitive miser in each of our brains.
I’m sure you’ve read about it in other business books. The rotten Cognitive Miser. I read about her too, but for some reason, it only became clear to me while reading this book how big a role she plays in our thinking. Or lack of it.
The Cognitive Miser, for those of you who are new to the term, is the part of our brains that makes snap judgments and decides how we feel about people after the first few moments. It seems that we are not the only ones making snap judgments. Apparently, so is everyone else.
It’s not just the first impression you have to fight. Apparently, there are lots of other ways our cognitive misers try to shortcut thinking.
Imagine the scenario: You’ve dressed up and prepped yourself for the first meeting and you think that the only ‘noise’ they’ll hear is that coming our of your mouth. Halvorson makes it clear that there are assumptions made that are playing in the background coloring what you say and what they hear. Those mental shortcuts can lead people to misunderstand you, your behavior and misread your intentions.
What exactly is filling in the details? Well, a few examples..
- Their first impression about you.
- The assumption that you are different from them in some way
- Their approach toward risk – are they opportunity focused or risk averse?
And those are just a few of the mental shortcuts that can snag you and distort their perception of you and your effectiveness. The further you read, the more you realize the miser can twist or enhance your words, depending on how you manage the event.
But all is not lost. Apparently there are some ways to mitigate the cognitive traps and bad impressions that you make. Rather than going with the flow of the cognitive miser, Halvorson recommends that we take a little more care so that others get us right. And how would we go doing that? The book has a number of suggestions that might help us elude some of the snares that lie in wait for the unsuspecting. A few of them include:
1. Never go into a meeting cold – that is, without knowing something about who are you are about to meet. Your knowledge about their likes, the groups they belong to, their interests could later play a key role in your ability to come across in a positive fashion.
3. Avoid ambiguity. To alleviate the anxiety of the risk-averse person, she recommends that you take extra time to be completely clear.
I liked this book for two reasons:
a) She opens your eyes to ways you can misrepresent yourself, without fully understanding why.
b) She reminds us near the end that it’s not always how other people misunderstand you, there are times that we deceive ourselves about how well we come across to others.
In the end, her message is that we need to make it easier for people to get us right. If you’ve read this book and want to leave a comment, please do. Or you can send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.