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Trevor E. S. Smith | Why Can’t People Understand Me?

Published:Sunday | June 4, 2017 | 12:00 AMTrevor E. S. Smith

Some people struggle with being misunderstood by their peers, colleagues and even family members. It can get to the point of exasperation. The situation might not solely be the fault of the person being misunderstood, it might not be their fault at all, as others jump to conclusions or put up defences that block effective and meaningful communication.

Today, I present a prototype (Pat) of a misunderstood individual and offer solutions to improve communication and relationships.


Identifying a fault


Pat recognises that something is wrong, so she informs the responsible party. To Pat's amazement, the conversation ends with her being blamed for something.


Introspection for Pat


Are you careful to consider your role in situations (causing, influencing, preventing) before making complaints?

Are you using the right tone, body language and communication style when making complaints?


Introspection for Others


Are you listening in defence mode ... protecting self, others, reputation, position?

Are you distracted from the facts by other factors such as age, hierarchy, biases related to behavioural style, gender, race, culture?


Giving honest feedback


Pat thinks it would be helpful to draw a colleague's attention to an issue that is negatively impacting their performance.

Instead of gratitude, Pat is flooded with a stream of invectives.


Introspection for Pat


Sometimes how things are said override what is said. Not everyone can accept 'calling a spade a spade' when receiving feedback. Couching the feedback in delicate language and tone helps.

Timing is critical in giving feedback. Wait for an appropriate teachable moment.


Introspection for Others


Work on listening and appreciating the message, and avoid being distracted by messenger issues.

Continuing to push back when receiving feedback might stem the inflow of well-meaning, useful advice. Be less sensitive.

Shift your focus to the bigger picture.


Promoting faster action


Pat is impatient with the slow pace at which decisions are made and plans are implemented. She is a constant source of prodding.

It does not require a genius to pick up that the prods are not being well received, and any slip-up on Pat's part is celebrated and highlighted. "So, you too have performance gaps."


Introspection for Pat


Your motive is to achieve outstanding results. The problem is that if you turn off your colleagues and fail to get their buy-in, it is going to be challenging to excel. Temper your observations and expectations. This is not a call to be complacent.

Choose your battles. Save your persistent prodding for high-impact, manageable initiatives. That way, others may not be wearied by your incessant pushing.


Introspection for Others


Truth be told, we often deliver less than we are capable of doing. Monitoring and prodding can produce the best in us - individually and collectively - receive Pat's prods with that mindset.

You may be uncomfortable with how Pat is communicating with you. Have an honest discussion as to how you could respond better if the information was presented in a style that you describe to Pat.


Imputed Motive


Another area of concern are the motives being ascribed to Pat. Pat is seen as being focused on results and achieving goals with little or no concern for 'people' issues.


Introspection for Pat


In many situations, perception actually trumps reality. While you recognise that success can only be achieved and sustained with and through people, you have to take the time to show it.

Reach out in a non-work-related manner more frequently. This might feel awkward for both sides initially, but will make a difference in the final analysis.


Introspection for Others


Ascribing motives to others is a dangerous habit. We cannot tell what is going on in the minds of others.

Relate to Pat in the way that you would like to see.

Join me as the training magazine sponsors a live webinar: 'Is Your Coaching Truly Effective? Let's Change That' on Thursday, July 6, 2017 at 11 a.m. Pacific/2 p.m. Eastern

Register here:

- Trevor E. S. Smith develops high-performing teams and offers SHRM-accredited certification and PDCs to leader-coaches. The Success with People Academy is the home of the revolutionary FinxS Platform from Extended DISC. Hire smart, conduct employee-satisfaction surveys, 360 performance evaluations and team reports online. Contact: Email: