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Perception_Judgments_First Impressions

How to overcome snap judgments and quick assumptions that might be distorting your reality about a situation.

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Recently I have become aware that some of my assumptions have been completely inaccurate.  I misinterpreted various comments, behaviors or events.  Jumping to quick conclusions has sent me down rabbit holes that have wasted my time, increased my anxiety, and skewed my perception of what is true.  How did I get it so wrong?

Our brain is wired to make quick judgments, snap decisions, and abrupt assumptions.

A study done at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences revealed that your subconscious brain is already formulating a decision 7 seconds before it reaches your consciousness.

Princeton University psychologist Alex Todorov and Janine Willis found it took people one-tenth-of-a-second to form an impression of a stranger based on their face.  

Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book Blink is about how people make decisions without really thinking using “thin-slicing”, a process where you quickly recognize patterns and make fast decisions.  

Your life is made up of a series of events which your brain is categorizing, finding patterns, and attributing meaning. Your mind is constantly creating stories about various situations which, if you pause long enough, you can actually hear your mental chatter.

  • “It doesn’t matter what I do, I will never _______”
  • “She/he must not like me because________ ”
  • “I am afraid to because _______ ”
  • “He /she is always _________”
  • “They think I am really _________”
  • “I am/ they are _________”
  • “I am too______”

What happens when you have misinterpreted body language, voice tone, comments, or other signals during these rapid-fire, first impressions and assumptions?

What if your inferences and perceptions have distorted reality causing unnecessary tension and emotional stress which then leads to poor actions, bad decisions, and a bad day?

Here are some ways to test your assumptions and reframe your mental chatter.

3 New Habit Nuggets:

1. “Seek first to understand then to be understood”

This habit is from Steven Covey’s best-selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and is a powerful one to use in your conversations with others. Research has identified 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken. This means 93% of what your are saying is being interpreted through your tone of voice and body language.  No wonder there is a lot of misunderstanding in the world.

To improve your understanding of someone else, here are two techniques to try:

a. Listen with empathy.

Listen carefully to what is being said to gain an understanding of the thoughts and feelings of the individual.  What is the intention behind the words?

b. Summarize and ask clarifying questions.

Check for accuracy in your understanding of what has been communicated by collecting further information with statements and follow-up questions before you respond with advice or feedback.

  • Did I understand you correctly that…..?
  • What I heard you say was….?
  • Tell me more….
  • Use  I-messages such as:  “I noticed that you might be angry about that decision, was this an accurate interpretation?”

2.  Challenge your perceptions with 3- 5 different scenarios.

It is easy to look at an event or situation through only one lens that supports your beliefs, values, inner critic and experiences. Stop and consider alternatives that might broaden your assessment of the situation.

Perfectionism, insecurity, fear, and self-doubt can cause us to fabricate a story that is not based on reality.  This only perpetuates your negative belief system.  Encourage yourself to come up with 3 – 5 different narratives for the situation to broaden your perspective.  Maybe there is another truth to the situation.

3. Avoid the use of exaggerated and extreme words.

The language you use to describe situations constructs your reality.  

Words like “always, never, all the time, forever, and impossible” are superlatives that may define a single event but are most likely distorting the real truth.  

Cognitive dissonance theory proclaims that human beings are prone to having conflicting behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes which leads to inconsistent reactions to any given situation. In other words, human beings are not consistent in their actions or reactions.  To say someone is “always being unkind or never listening” is most likely an inaccurate statement.

Better word choices to describe a situation would be:

  • Often I find ….
  • Sometimes when you….
  • It seems that in this situation I feel….
  • Most of the time,…..
  • Usually this happens when……..

Using more moderated language will help to challenge your assumptions and create a more accurate perception of the current situation.  This will help clear the path toward great emotional freedom and success.

Try these three habits for one week and see if you notice any changes.

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