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Notebook and Pencil

Pioneer Tip: Don’t Blame Yourself When a Misunderstanding Occurs

Have you ever had a misunderstanding with someone? I recently had an opportunity to reflect on my personal and professional life and misunderstandings that I have encountered in a variety of situations. Despite these misunderstandings, in 2014, I made life-changing decisions about being authentic and about not internalizing issues that have stressed me out in the past. Among these issues included feeling that I was a member of the “out group” among some members of my family (a childhood issue that I decided to confront as an adult), having limited access to important information and to access in a work environment, and being isolated in some environments because I expressed views that diverged from the norm.

Holding true to my values has not been easy. I have been threatened by a student who was not pleased with my administrative decisions. I have been excluded from meetings in the workplace by an individual who held a position of power and did not want me to challenge her position and views. I have been confronted on my job by a wife who was upset at how I engaged with her husband at a conference. I have even been cursed out by a relative who became upset when I posted my thoughts on social media about a ridiculous family situation. Looking back, I have no regrets for the decisions that I have made in any of these situations. Each of these individuals chose to express themselves as they did, and I too, have chosen to express my prerogative in authentic ways that let others know that despite the degrees, titles, and awards I possess, I am a human who sometimes faces real challenges in life.

One of the ways that I address challenges, however, is to share my thoughts and perspectives about staying sane in spite of drama and conflicts. Many of these conflicts arise because of misunderstandings and miscommunication.  Although you can’t control their thoughts and actions, you can prepare for potential conflicts that may come your way.

Below are some of the most common ways that people might misunderstand you.

(1) People assume that you are something that you are not.

One of my common experiences is being perceived as snobby or unapproachable. Some of this comes from the fact that I don’t like to waste my time, a precious commodity that cannot be bought or restored once it is lost. I AM selective about with whom I engage. I am not, however, someone who does not assist people who need help. I came to the conclusion that people who need to know me will know me and those who don’t want to get to know me can stay in my outer circle and make their assumptions about who I really am.

Reflection: If you think that people are making assumptions about you, determine whether you really care about changing these assumptions. If you do care, identify ways that you might present information about who you really are across multiple channels. If you don’t care, keep moving!

(2) People are afraid of conflict and/or the unknown.

I experienced a workplace conflict several months ago. The funniest aspect of this ordeal was that people were talking to each other about the conflict but would not talk to me directly about the incident and my interpretation of it. To this day, I am not sure why people were afraid to talk to me. Did they think that I would curse them out or bite their heads off? My point is that these misunderstandings occurred because people would not address the heart of the issue and would not ask me questions that might clarify their concerns.

Reflection: Decide if it is worth addressing the misunderstanding. If the people who are engaged in the conflict are people with whom you do not care to have long-lasting relationships, keep moving! 

(3) People do not want to change.

I am not a traditional person. During my professional life, however, I have worked in mostly traditional environments. I know that when I start a project or work with people, I’m going to be an “out of the box” thinker. I want to find creative ways to connect thoughts and people. I want to push existing boundaries in an effort to create new solutions to old problems. As a result, when some people see me coming, they go the other way. They don’t understand that I want to be a member of the team and that I might want my unique voice to be heard.

Reflection: You are who you are, and people who are who they are. If you find yourself in environments that do not align with your values and beliefs, it might be time to keep moving!

If you do all that you do to represent who you are, and people still don’t understand you, remember that it is their problem, not yours.


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