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Jumping to Conclusions/Perceptions

“They were being rude to me.” “He was talking about me to others.” “She was giving me more work than anyone else.” As an HR professional, I’ve heard these statements multiple times in a variety of situations. It can be easy to be swayed by individuals who firmly believe what they perceived and are adamant in the “intent” of the other individual.

The majority of the time, once I hear the other side of the story, often the polar opposite of the original version, it becomes clear that while both are telling their “truth,” their perceptions of the same situation are skewed by their expectations and experiences. The trick is stepping back and re-evaluating with a new lens.

It is very easy to get drawn into the drama; we tend to believe what best supports our expectations. So how do we step back to resolve the conflict? I’ve often found that the first thing to do is to take a second and breathe. Let the information sink in (especially the more dramatic the situation). Start asking questions—what was going on? What led into the encounter? What were the prior conflicts?

But probably the best “reminder” I can give myself is to remember that the likely “intent” of both parties is to get the job done and make life easier/better. At work at least, most people don’t really want to say or do something that blows up.

Was the individual really being rude, or were they just short and/or distracted and didn’t phrase things as best they could? Rather than immediately reacting with anger/frustration, could the individual have stopped in the moment and asked for clarification (i.e., “hey that struck me wrong; did you mean it to come across that way?”).

As leaders, we must think about how we come across and be aware of social cues when we do things poorly. If I see someone tense up after talking to them, do I take the time to check/rephrase (i.e., “I think I came across poorly; what I meant to say/ask was . . . . “)?

We all have our own realities and see situations through our experiences. Leaders who can remember that and take the time to try and remember that other people see/hear things differently will be better able to resolve conflict.

Have a good week!

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