How you see yourself and how others see you are often two completely different things. Recently, I had to tell an acquaintance whose dating profile described her as carefree and low-maintenance, that a woman who carries a butane-powered travel curling iron in her evening bag and keeps a worry stone on her desk is neither. She was disgusted with me…at first.
After 36 hours of being furious with me, she came around. Apparently, she asked a few more people to look at her profile and many of them had the same reaction. She apologized, and we moved on. But this raises an interesting question: How many of us know how others truly see us?
It probably never occurs to most people to ask their nearest and dearest to describe them in one word, but the answer can be illuminating. It can also be dangerous.
During my freshman year of college, a psychology professor devised an exercise he called The Ultimate Truth. It was a free association game played using flash cards. Each student was given 20 cards. On the front were the names of our classmates, the backs were blank. On the back, we free-associated one adjective about each person and when everyone was done, all of the cards with your name on the front were handed back to you.
Imagine the verbal brawl that occurred at the next class when we discussed the findings as a group. One guy had been described as a drunk by more than half of the class. And a sophomore couple who had been dating since orientation, were shocked to learn that she found him untrustworthy and he thought she was selfish. Ouch.
The Professor included himself in the lesson and was not the least bit surprised by what he read. Over six years and hundreds of students, the most common answer was flighty. Far from upset, he was always impressed by how no one held back or tried to stroke his ego, which was the whole point of the exercise.
The Professor’s lesson: People usually don’t know that others think of them, and the majority don’t really want to know.
So here’s the question: Have you ever asked the people closest to you what they think about you? And would you even want to know?
P.S. Over the years several of my co-workers and friends have either intentionally or inadvertently described me as some variation of “intense.” It was a little jarring the first time, since I hadn’t really thought of myself that way. But, you know what, they’re right.