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What am I like? You tell me.

January 9, 2012

I often wonder if I should change the way I am around people. The old cliché of ‘just be yourself’ is all well & good, but what if people misunderstand your traits as negatives? Let me explain.

I like to think of myself as someone who doesn’t partake in social fakeness. I don’t laugh at jokes that I don’t find funny, I find it hard to smile on cue & I don’t ask how people are if I don’t care. I would like to think these mannerisms could be perceived as honesty & genuineness. However, I’m sure – even more so as I write this & read it back – others would perceive these mannerisms as unfriendly & cold hearted. Perception is a funny old thing. I can tell you I’m not cold hearted or unfriendly but does that really matter? What do I mean? I’ll come back to this in a minute. First, let me give you one more example.

I believe it’s important to walk tall, look at people in the eye & be confident in your approach. However, there’s a fine line between being perceived as confident & being perceived as arrogant. I’ve been accused of the latter many times. And that’s just from the people who admit it. Imagine how many people think it but never say it, or who don’t have the opportunity to say it to me.

The thing is, I can live my life safe in the knowledge I am not arrogant, unfriendly or cold hearted. But when it comes down to it, if everyone else believes me to be all of these then is that who I am by definition? I suppose it depends on whether I care about what others think of me.

Well, if you must know, I do care. I am conscious of what my friends & colleagues think of me. It affects me as a person. And so, as a consequence, what others perceive me as, is who I am.

So if I am affected by what people think of me, perhaps I should change the way I am around people. It won’t necessarily mean I feel any different but I may be perceived differently. Is that bad? To act in certain ways around people. I don’t think it is.

We spend our lives giving off signals to others hoping to convey certain subtleties that may or may not be true. Clean shaving for an interview, power dressing for a meeting, tidying the house for a dinner party. All scenarios where you can set the parameters for how people are likely to perceive you. All understandable & in theory, all reasons why I should do the same in my own life.

The way I see it, there are 3 sets of traits that are important.  Firstly, & most importantly, there are the traits you would like to have (decided by you). Secondly, there are the traits you perceive to give off (decided by you). Thirdly, there are the traits people perceive you to have (decided by others). In an ideal world, if you can align & synchronise all those traits – across all 3 sets – you’re laughing. Surely that is the holy grail of living a happy life.

So if I wanted to be seen as generous, but instead, worried that I came across as naive when actually others perceived me as tight, I may spend my life in a constant turmoil of split personalities – if I worried about such things of course. I’d much rather spend my life wanting to be seen as kind, knowing people probably thought I was kind & having people actually perceive me as kind. That sounds like a nice calm & relaxing way to live your life doesn’t it?

Of course, some people are born with all the right traits & naturally give off the signs because by nature this is who they are. But if you are not one of these people, I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with setting out what you believe to be the right traits, learning the relevant signals to give off & spending your life doing so.  If the reaction you get back in return is something that makes you happier, then does it matter if people don’t know the ‘real’ you? Perhaps if you practise enough, you become the person you wanted to be all along.

I say, decide the type of person you want to be & learn how to be perceived that way.

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