The Personal Mirror

We can’t view ourselves through the eyes of others. We can’t import all their biases and viewpoints and lenses, and we can’t export our own to make room for them. For better or worse, the way others truly experience us will remain a mystery.

But we can certainly gather clues to the impact we’re making and adjust accordingly. While you should always take the expressed opinions of others regarding you with an enormous helping of salt, that doesn’t mean you should dismiss them as irrelevant. You should look for patterns. The rest of the world is your personal mirror.

First, release your ego. There’s no “right and wrong” here. If everyone in the world thinks you’re rude and you think you aren’t, this process doesn’t mean that you have to accept that you’re a jerk. But it does mean examining your behavior and looking for what aspect other people may be incorrectly interpreting as rudeness!

(As an example, back in 1992, then-President George Bush was visiting Australia. While riding around in the limo, he held up his index and middle finger in a “V” sign, which is common in the US as either meaning “peace” or “victory.” Down Under, however, it means… something very rude. 100% of his audience might have thought he was being rude without it being true – but that doesn’t mean Bush should have just shrugged his shoulders and said “sticks and stones!” Something was definitely wrong with his behavior, in the sense that it wasn’t communicating what he wanted to communicate.)

Before your intent reaches the mind of your audience, it has a LONG way to travel. It has to make it through your imperfect ability to communicate, past the audience’s imperfect ability to observe, then through the filters of their own experiences, biases, moods, heuristics, and even current fatigue level. Then their response has to make that same journey back in the other direction! Is it any wonder that we don’t always get it right?

So adjust. Don’t just stubbornly plant your feet and say “well, my intent was pure, so it’s everyone else’s responsibility to recognize it.” Hogwash! It’s on you – because you’re the one who wants the benefit of better communication.

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