Sizing other people up is often tempting, as it is less time-consuming than taking the time to figure them out. This habit is backed by science ― the brain is hardwired to employ shortcuts to help us cope with complex situations, so that in general, most people may rely on first impressions more than they like to admit. Thus, we run the risk of being misconstrued with our words and actions, an unpleasant experience better avoided at all costs.
The negative impact and consequences misinterpretation bring forth are significant: arguments, resentment, and missed opportunities to name a few. Let’s examine the ways in which we may avoid being misinterpreted by the people around us and how we can avoid being misinterpreted by them.
Be congruent. Inconsistency connotes dishonesty. Saying one thing and doing another gives off the impression of possessing filters, ulterior motives and possibly, deceit. Aim to be consistent in words and deeds.
Be brief and concise. Don’t beat around the bush and get to the point. No one has the time to decode unclear messages, more so if the messages are winding and rambling. Ambiguous messages leave doubt and uncertainty, and are open to different interpretations far from the original intention of the message.
Be mindful of cultural differences. All behaviors are influenced by cultural background. A potent example is eye contact. A culturally determined behavior ―most people interpret maintaining eye contact as a sign of respect, but believe it or not, people from a different cultural background may see it otherwise. Asians, American Indians, Arabs, and Chinese prefer that you don’t make eye contact. Averting gazes from a person of authority is seen as sign of respect. Similarly, always be sensitive of personal space. Americans and Europeans are known to require or prefer the most personal space between them and others, so keep away from inching too close for comfort.
Ask for clarifications. When something is vague or unclear, don’t hesitate to ask. Ask someone to repeat what they said to avoid misunderstandings. Asking questions and clarifications will supply you with the right information, thereby avoiding misinterpretation.
Watch your tone of voice. Most people think it inconsequential, but tone of voice does matter. Adjust accordingly, depending on who you are dealing with. Some people prefer being spoken to in soft tones; hurried and loud speech may intimidate them.
Make time to meet or pick up the phone. In the digital age, we are interconnected more than ever. The preference of emails and text messages as communication tools may aid in the probability of misinterpretation. Why is this so? There is absence of tone and facial expressions through this mode of correspondence. The choice of words may also turn some people off or leave them hanging. Nothing beats physical presence ― so schedule that brief meeting over coffee. Take the time to call someone to convey your intention.
Quit assumptions. Resist the temptation to align negative meaning to something a person does or says. Change your mindset: train your mind to always welcome positivity.
We all desire to be in harmony with others, thus, it would be of great benefit to always be mindful of our dealings with them. Leave no room for misinterpretation.
Chris Petersen has more than 30 years of experience in the technology and the financial services industry. She is an author, Fintech strategist, speaker and an advocate for women’s leadership. For a dose of inspiration, you can follow her on Twitter, Facebook or connect with her on LinkedIn.