A Story of Different Perceptions (or how to respond to confusing questions)

Different perceptionHave you ever been asked something like “Do your parents still hate me”?

I was confronted by this question last weekend on a social media platform and I thought I share this with you here, so that we can learn from it. Although, it is a bit off topic. For those who do not find it relevant to them, feel free to skip this one and have a look at other articles which are more relevant to your needs.

A matter of perception or a matter of years?

This question or similar ones of that thought put you off. At least, I was puzzled. I really did not get it and I asked myself “why is this question addressed to me? Why now after so many years?” It could be that this message was sent to finally put an end to things. To resolve something and to come to ease with a certain situation. Or that this person had just experienced a similar situation like (s)he had back then with my relatives and that triggered this message. It could be a matter of different perception, people who are not on the same page….

These are all assumptions, however, they will not get me very far. Neither the person who wrote this message. Therefore, I decided to reply last Sunday. Even though I cannot talk for my relatives, this person had contacted me directly and so I wanted to respond. While doing so, I was cautious what to write and what not. I reflected on similar situations I have had in the past and on the advices I had received on various occasions, I tried to apply my learnings.

How to respond to confusing questions

Here are my first lessons learned from this exchange which – in my view – are applicable in any relationship, whether in business or private life:

1. Express your personal view

If the question is not related to your personal relationship with that person, ‘reaction with distance’ is the best advice. It is no good to try to be in the middle of two parties, even if the person in question is close to you. So, when replying I gave my personal view on things without taking sides. I wanted to avoid to be biased, so I did not ask my relatives what to respond before replying to the message. As I wrote, I began to hope that it was a question of different perceptions and lack of communication. I also mentioned in my response that I can provide their contact details, to ensure that a direct exchange is made possible.

Now, to control your emotions is difficult, nobody can easily stay or become objective. So, if you are having difficulties to stay neutral in a discussion with your colleagues or at home, stop the discussion and hit a tennis ball before replying or write out everything you wanted to say, then leave it for a day and edit out all the emotional elements later before sending. Okay, sometimes this is easier said than done, I agree, but why not give it a try!

If you are being asked a similar question, how would you respond?

2. Be clear about your expectations of a relationship

Different expectations of a relationship can do harm, that is not new. This was also the case in my personal scenario. When I talked to my parents afterwards, they were not aware of this person’s feelings and thoughts. In my personal view, both parties may also have different levels of expectations of this relationship.

While one cannot influence what other people think or perceive, we should be aware and clear about our personal expectations of a relationship, no matter whether it is with your next client, your best friend or your partner. So, (re-)think about it and communicate it – or not. And reflect how it might be perceived, maybe different, maybe not. Things will be more apparent for the other end.

Does it mean that someone hates me when (s)he does not contact me for days, months or even years? I hope not. We all have our lives and interests and priorities change. Some relationships stay strong despite anything, others fade away. That is part of life.

3. Do not hold back

If you have the perception that you need to fix a relationship with someone, I can only advice you not wait too long to talk to this person. They might perceive it completely different, they might forget about it (and not remember it years later), they might want to stop this relationship – anything is possible.

If you do wait (that happens to me as well), send out a message (in whatever format) with some sort of explanation. It should deliver clarity, and not confuse.

The Bottom Line

Taking the above three points seriously, I would like to stress, that I am not writing this post here to put someone in the spotlight or to blame anyone for her/his actions. And this is why I have not disclosed any details of the correspondence apart from the question itself and the fact that my parents are involved.

I simply wanted to share this experience with you, as I believe that you and I can learn something from such a situation.

What is your experience with misperceptions? Do you think we should be more aware of other people’s perceptions? Let me know in the comments.

Photo courtesy of Saad Kadhi

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