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Faulty perception shows up in almost every conversation or scenario at work and can wreak havoc on our relationships with coworkers.  Maybe you’ve experienced one of the following situations:  

  • Approaching a coworker (your boss, a peer, or even the front desk admin, who’s usually the most upbeat person in the office. But for whatever reason, they don’t respond to you as you were expecting) 
  • You ask for advice or pose what you consider to be an urgent question, and your coworker doesn’t seem to care 
  • There’s a deadline, and you feel you need extra support, but your manager can’t be bothered 

Now let’s flip it around. Have you ever been stressed, sad or angry at work and  

  • Responded abruptly to a coworker?  
  • Ignored or avoided a colleague because you didn’t have time for them?  
  • Agreed to something to avoid conflict but then didn’t carry through? 

These are all common scenarios at work where misperceptions occur because, as humans, we often don’t realize how the people around us perceive our actions. Unfortunately, how we think we show up for others is not typically how they experience us. For instance, in one of the earlier examples, you need support from your manager, but you ‘perceive’ that he/she doesn’t care, solely based on their response to the situation. You are offended, but your manager is clueless. Your manager has no idea that his/her response (or lack thereof) has caused you to alter reality and start making stuff up in your head. You tell yourself things like: they just don’t care – they’re mean – they’re only out for themselves!

Are We Speaking The Same Language? 

Although perceptions like these are often incorrect, it’s what we do when we are not speaking the same language of as our coworkers.  I don’t mean languages like English, Spanish or French. I’m talking about the language of personality. Because when we don’t understand why our coworkers show up the way they do, we cannot effectively communicate with them. To communicate effectively we need to understand their emotional needs. And, yeah, I know – talking about emotions is not necessarily encouraged at work. But we aren’t talking about being touchy-feely. The research shows that we show up in the world and respond to our environments based on our emotional needs.  

Understanding the four major DiSC™ types can give you insight into the emotional needs of each person in your organization. For example, the Dominant personality type has a need for control and accomplishment, whereas the Influencer’s needs are all about appreciation and acceptance. The Steady needs to feel valued and listened to, whereas the Conscientious has the need to be correct and prefers to work alone. If we aren’t aware of these needs for ourselves and our coworkers, communication is difficult with misperceptions happening constantly.  

Stories Can Be Dangerous 

When a misperception occurs, our brain moves into storytelling mode. This is because we’re neurologically wired to make something up when we’re confused about how a conversation or event played out or how someone responded to us, especially if there were negative undertones. Our brain needs for the situation to make sense. It’s a safety thing. And, the brain is so incredible that it will reward us (through a dopamine hit, as an example) when we create a story around a situation that makes sense. And that is whether the story is true or not!  

Once we’ve made up a story, a new narrative based on that story affects how we respond the next time we interact with the same person. It can even influence how we treat the next person we see or talk to. Ever snapped at someone about something, only to realize later that it wasn’t them you were frustrated with? It was the person you spoke to BEFORE them. They just happened to get caught in the line of fire. So, misperceptions allow us to create some impressive storylines, but most of the time, they just aren’t true. And they can be seriously detrimental to our work relationships. 

Stories With A Happy Ending

If we want to improve our experience at work, though, we need to be willing to get curious when we feel our emotions being hijacked. When we notice our discomfort or confusion because of a coworker’s response to us, it’s an opportunity to dig in a little before we go down the path of some made-up story. Because the reality is there are always two sides to a story.  

This isn’t about making excuses for their behavior. Instead, it’s about trying to understand why they responded the way they did and why you reacted the way you did. Take some time to reflect and consider how you can show up in a way that meets both of your needs. This may require a conversation and some studying up on the DiSC™ personality types. Not only will this lead to improved communication, but it will also create connection.

When you show you care enough to get to know someone else’s emotional needs, you begin to create a bond of trust. Since trust is the basis of any good relationship, it’s a worthy spend of your time and energy. And the next time your brain goes into storytelling mode, you’ll be able to realistically create a happy ending.  

If you’d like to improve the storytelling in your work environment, give us a call. We provide DiSC™ assessments and training on the Diversity of Personalities™

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