Leadership Communications: Two Flawed Assumptions

“Statistically speaking, there are only weak correlations between how others see us and how we believe we are seen,” notes social psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson in No One Understands You and What to Do About It (Harvard Business Review Press, 2015).

When we communicate as leaders, we’re likely operating under two flawed assumptions without even realizing it:

  1. That other people see you objectively as you are.
  2. That other people see you as you see yourself.

Neither of these beliefs are true. You’re much harder to read than you imagine. You may think you’re an open book, but this is rarely the case. Human beings are remarkably complex. You’ll always be a mystery to others, even if you think you’re doing enough to make yourself knowable.

For example, your emotions are often much less obvious than you realize. Strong emotions are easy to read: fear, rage, surprise, disgust. But the more subtle emotions we experience daily—frustration, annoyance, disappointment, impatience and respect—may not actually register on our faces. When they do, they’re usually indistinguishable from other emotions.

Psychologists call this the “transparency illusion.” Great communicators will go the extra mile, clearly articulating what they’re feeling instead of expecting others to deduce it from non-verbal cues.

How “Judgeable” Are You?

Some of us are more knowable than others. Leaders who are easier to understand deliberately express themselves in ways that encourage more accurate perceptions. Psychologists refer to this as “judgeability.”

Introverted leaders who reveal little about themselves will have a hard time with judgeability. If you aren’t shy about sharing your accomplishments and how you achieved them, you’ll also meet listeners’ resistance. Telling someone you graduated at the top of your class or turned around a failing company isn’t as effective as articulating the strengths that helped facilitate these results.

When I’m working with leaders, I often stress that if you don’t tell people what they need to know, their brains will fill in the blanks, creating a personality profile of you that may or may not be accurate.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your experiences. You can contact me here, or on LinkedIn.