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Ideas. Insights. Inspiration.

People's Perceptions

I recently had coffee with a friend and former colleague.

I won't provide many details, for reasons that should become clear in a moment.

But it was a terrific catch-up with someone I hadn't seen in quite some time.

And as will happen when friends and former colleagues get together, we began to talk about shared experiences and shared acquaintances.

I shared a story about a mutual colleague I greatly admired, and how I felt this individual (let's call him Sam, because that's not even close to his name) had supported my career tremendously. I had always thought Sam was widely respected and universally loved.

And then my friend shared a story about that same person that I had trouble digesting.

My friend had a very different impression of Sam because he hadn't helped my friend's career. In fact, it seems at some point he decided to intentionally hinder it for reasons I definitely don't understand.

As much as I admired and respected Sam, my friend resented and despised him.

I left my coffee catch-up that day with two important reminders.

First, no one is going to be perceived the same way by everyone. I had thought Sam was universally loved, but clearly, that wasn't the case. Most of us will form our own perceptions about people based on our personal interactions with them, and those interactions are going to vary based on a wide variety of factors.

So while I might like everyone to think I'm smart, witty, charming, and kind... it's probably never going to happen. The best I can do is to consistently act in a way that's aligned with the person I'd like to be known for being, and accept the fact that some people are going to see me differently despite my best efforts. I'm okay with that.

And second, it's completely possible for two people to have very different opinions of something (or even someone) and still maintain a great relationship.

That's helpful to remember the next time you get together with family for a holiday meal.


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