I recently had my best friend over for a cup of tea. It has become pretty routine for us to get together on a regular basis. But this time was a little different. Instead of chatting about our weeks or discussing our shared interests, she was in the process of preparing for a pharmaceutical exam, and I was deep into a very detailed illustration project.
So, we met up with the intention to study and work together. Everything went as planned, but as my friend was leaving, she said, “I wasn’t sure that we would be able to work together without talking.”
That made me think.
How well do we know each other? How well do we know our family members, friends, coworkers, business partners, etc.? As we change and grow individually, do we also take into consideration that they do the same? Or are we stuck with an outdated first impression?
We’ve all been there at one time or another - you accidentally offended a friend with an inappropriate joke, disappointed your boss on a big assignment or had a coworker with whom you just didn’t click. I’m sure you had a good excuse for your actions. Perhaps you had a bad day, you didn’t feel well, you had family issues at home or another vendor messed up your client’s project. Unfortunately, the thought of an underlying backstory doesn’t always occur to others.
This initial opinion formed about you, your performance or your business is then engraved in the minds of those you affected. Even worse is that it’s very difficult to change. In psychology, this phenomenon is known as the “fundamental attribution error.” We, as humans, quickly generalize the behavior of others and assume it to be their essential trait.
Dorie Clark, a marketing strategist and professor at Duke University, suggests four ways you can overturn these entrenched beliefs.
People have the tendency not to reevaluate their opinions. That is humankind’s natural way of survival and preservation of energy. To make someone reexamine you, you need to do something out of the ordinary. For example, to catch your boss off guard if you tend to be quiet during meetings, start speaking up. You’ll need to do it often enough to make people question their original judgment of you.
Decide which opinions you want to change and start behaving in the exact opposite way. Like if you are always late for work, start coming in 15 minutes early. Just remember, you’ll have to do it for months to change your habit, and in turn, your coworkers’ opinions of you. So make sure it’s something to which you can fully commit.
If you started off on the wrong foot with a client, avoiding the situation altogether is usually not the best decision. Try getting to know them better by doing something outside of the office setting, offer to work with them on a project free of charge or work with them for a cause they believe in. Psychologist Ben Michaels says, “Don’t use words, use actions. Once people have a point of view, the best way to shift it is through mounting behavioral evidence rather than just half-hearted niceties.”
And sometimes a person’s opinion about you is formed from his or her particular experiences or preconceived notions. It’s nothing you’ve done, and you really can’t do anything about it. You just have to continue to be your complete genuine self, and wait it out. Hopefully, they’ll come around once they’ve gotten to see your true colors.
It’s frustrating to feel misunderstood. However, being more open to both our own and others’ potential to grow and change, can create a better sense of awareness for everyone involved. And perhaps you’ll then see that a talkative friend also has the potential to become an excellent study partner.