Apr 20

“No One Understands You”: Heidi Grant Halvorson’s Book

Ever feel no one understands you, whether at work or elsewhere? Social psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson wants to help, hence her recent and aptly titled No One Understands You and What to Do About It. Adam Grant lauds it as “…a codebook for deciphering one of the grand riddles of life: why don’t others see us as we see ourselves?”

Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian, notes that when reading her book, moreover, “you start to feel it’s a miracle that two humans ever manage a successful conversation, let alone a friendship or a marriage.”

Halvorson introduces why in Harvard Business Review: “…Research shows only weak correlations between what others think of us and how we see ourselves. So if you’ve ever felt underestimated, sensed that you inadvertently stepped on toes, or thought that false and hurtful assumptions were being made about you, you were probably right. The way we see one another can be irrational, incomplete, and inflexible—and largely (but not entirely) automatic.

All types of misperceptions abound, which Halvorson explains further in the book. But what can you do to fix these?

Let’s start on the perceiving end. In No One Understands You Halvorson describes two phases of evaluation we routinely receive from others—though whether the second phase ever happens depends partly on the success of the first:

  • Phase One: a quick, less than conscious, initial assessment.
  • Phase Two:  “…(T)he perceiver has to work a lot harder, paying closer attention, gathering disparate data, and making sense of it to draw informed, thoughtful conclusions about you.”

Several “lenses” are employed:

  • Trust. Basically, are you friend or foe?
  • Power. When there’s a power differential: “Prove yourself useful to me, or get out of my way.”
  • Ego. Who’s on top? “Subconsciously, people often want confirmation that they, or their group, are superior to other individuals or groups.”

So, what about your own role in becoming better understood? Two strategies can help:

  • Using your knowledge about the above lenses, effectively convey who you are. In other words, answer the questions perceivers will have regarding trust, power, and ego.
  • “Another, complementary approach is to make your perceivers want to revise their opinions of you, thereby improving your image faster and with less effort.”

The author not only explains in detail how to enact the above but also how to improve your own perceiving skills. In Business Outsider she says examples of the latter include taking your time, committing to being fair, and watching for confirmation bias (i.e., “Once we form an impression of someone, we tend to look selectively at his or her behavior to find confirming evidence that our impression is correct, rather than looking at all the evidence available.”)

Daniel H. Pink, author, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us“Think you know how you come across? Think again. Using a brilliant combination of stories and science, Heidi Grant Halvorson reveals the gulf between how others perceive us and how we perceive ourselves. But instead of leaving us to lament, she shows us how to contend with this sometimes harsh reality. This is a smart, fascinating, and eminently practical book.”