The Cost of Being Misunderstood

November 26, 2016

We perceive people as WE are before knowing them as THEY are.


The sad thing about this fact, is that we don't get to know most people we meet 'as they are' at all, as we have judged them and moved on.


If you were interviewing Richard Branson for a spot on your management team (take 20 years off Richard's age to put him in the mix of peers applying for the role) and he presented himself as he is most often seen; casual, denim, no socks, rolled-up sleeves on the creased linen, open-neck shirt, a little shy, taking his time to think about this answers, talking about his passion for innovation, disruption and the environment, and you knew nothing about his success and his history - how would you judge him against the guy in a suit on a career path to CEO who has ticked the corporate boxes and is 'business first' minded?


The answer to this question depends upon who YOU are, not upon who Richard is.


You are a Millennial. You have a view that business is best when done with people you like and who value their personal time and experiences in life as much as their work time. You are not attached to a title and loyalty to a company is not your thing.  A company needs to keep you engaged and happy if they are to keep you at all. You like to have fun every day. You love to mix world travel with making money and 9-5 doesn't cut-it for you.


You are a person of boundaries. You have worked your way through the ranks and you know how to play the game. You work hard, often last to leave the office and always first to arrive. You believe presentation and personal branding is essential to doing business well and you present yourself conservatively, as is best to magnify professionalism and efficiency. Time-is-money and your time is heavily invested in achieving for the company. You don't take breaks and sick days are for those who have no regard to their career progression.


Who you are as a Leader directly impacts who you attract to your team.


Whilst this is a comfort zone, as of course we find leading those who are 'like us' easier, it can limit the breadth of talent available to us in our resource pool. 


We overlooked the most creative guy who would have challenged our limits in the most positive way, as he was just a little unkept in appearance and socially challenged in communication during his interview.


We inherited a few people in the team we have been promoted to manage; there are a couple who don't dress the 'right' way, one who has to leave with sick kids constantly and another who keeps on coming up with uninvited ideas. We wouldn't have hired these people and we're stuck with them! They breach our unwritten rules every day and we keep telling them so, hoping they will change. Morale and productivity is dropping and we are not looking so good in our new Leadership role.


What if we Leaders were able to expand our mindset, to be more than we have become.


Herein lies the challenge for Leaders in my experience.


Many Leaders have the technical aspects of their management role down pat. They have learned from those who have gone before them and from the environmental / organisational standards around them. They have subscribed to the well-worn path of common standards in business; 9-5 (which is really 8 - 7+), compliant behaviour, waiting your turn and time, navy & black, shirts and blouses, report writing, swimming in the lane...


BUT... these 'rules' of business have conditioned so many Leaders to be ineffective in the art of influence when it comes to motivating and inspiring others. They haven't learned (yet) that their ability to inspire and influence others to rise above their own limits, comes from the ability to make people feel understood.


To be an exceptional Leader, one must put down the rule book and conditioned responses and open up the lens of curiosity and exploration. The exceptional leader understands and embraces diversity in thinking, communication and action strategies. They know that the common goal can best be achieved from a variety of styles coming together. 


I'll give you a very light personal experience to magnify my point. I'm a human behaviourist. I know me, warts and all. I know what motivates me, what sends me into a nose-dive of procrastination and what has me pushing through boundaries with enthusiasm. One of my leading traits is that I am highly VISUAL. I like colour and clarity. I was labelled a few times as someone who needs structure. The word itself felt foreign to me and extremely limiting. "No, I don't need structure, I need clarity." I replied a few times. Still the "You need structure" kept coming. The end point was a disconnect. The mini-me thoughts along the route to that end-point were 'what else do they believe to be true about me?' 


In this example, it was just one word. Just a word! Albeit repeatedly used and in the context of 'what you need is...' conversations. 


As Leaders we cannot afford to disconnect our people - it comes with a high cost. When our people are disconnected their levels of motivation decrease. Their spotlight is turned on to seek out more examples of being misunderstood and the translation of experiences becomes skewed to finding this very outcome. (What we grow will flow.)


Teams can quickly become toxic and dysfunctional under a Leader who is judging and therefore treating everyone in the team as if their needs are the same as the Leaders' own. 


How can a Leader avoid the cost of an employee feeling misunderstood?


  1. Notice the key words used by the employee and add them to your language pattern when in communication with them. Example: I think that, I'd like to think, what do you think. (This person does NOT want their leader to ask them how they FEEL about XYZ. Can you see what they want to be asked instead?)

  2. Mix your language patterns up, so as to include as many leading styles as you can (I think, I feel, I believe, I hear...)

  3. Ask lots of HOW questions - often. How would you approach this one? How would you prefer to organise this project so we come out at the desired spot? How do you (think / feel / believe) this way would work for you?

  4. Let go of your 'rules'. Who says it has to be done a certain way? (Ask yourself this question constantly.)

  5. Check-in with your team individually. A coffee-chat can be priceless. "I don't have the time for this" is a common first response from my clients. "Try it once" I say. "Wow!" comes the feedback after the chat most times. Find out about your people, what inspires them outside of work, what challenges them, what aspirations do they have?

  6. Ask your team 'what more can I be doing for you?'


To be understood is an experience we each seek. Don't believe me? Think of the spaces where you feel most accepted and free to be yourself.


Keen to learn more?


Call me to book your obligation free 30 minute intro call, with a view to investing in your Leadership capabilities.  Be a Leader who Learns.









Please reload

Featured Posts

I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!

Please reload

Please reload

Follow Me
  • Grey Facebook Icon
  • Grey Twitter Icon
  • Grey Instagram Icon
  • Grey Pinterest Icon

Tel: +61 401 792 366

  • LinkedIn - White Circle

© 2016 Helen Treloar