The six people in your one-on-one conversation

At one point or another, we have all proposed ideas that were overlooked, dismissed, or outright rejected. Someone else comes along with the same exact idea, expressed in the same exact manner and was hailed a hero. I am sure you asked yourself why would this happen? A similar event occurred when Richard Weylman, a consultant, asked two partners (his clients) to assess their personal contribution to the business.

Each partner assessed his contribution to be 60% while assigning 40% to the other partner.  Just to be clear, this two partners liked each other very much. They were not trying to undercut each other or diminish the value of the contribution the other is making. So, if there are no nefarious intentions involved, what exactly is the reason we overestimate our contributions and underestimate the contributions of others? The answer lies in the perception we have of ourselves and of others.

In every human interaction, people come into the conversation with perceptions. Every participant walks into the conversation with two extra characters. The first person to enter the room is the person you are. Then follows the person you think you are. The last person to join the conversation is the person you think the other participant is.

The person you are

The person you are is not the person most people know. When it’s all said and done, the person you are is the person that remains. For some of us, it’s that scare little kid, that awkward high school nerd who never grew out of his or her insecurities. The bottom line is, the person you are comes to the conversations with all of your fears, failures, and trepidations.

The person you think you are

The person you think you are is successful, moderately cocky, self-aware, and supremely confident. This person carries only a small portion of the baggage that the real you carry. This version of you is usually the one driving most of your interactions with people you don’t know or deal with regularly.

The other participant

You may have a very clear idea of who the other participant is before you walk into the room. You may know his or her strengths and weaknesses. Even if you have never met the person, the first minute will provide all the information you need or you think you need. The power of perception plays a centerpiece role here.

I am discussing this topic because it plays a big role in how we experience conversations.  If you have already made up your mind on people’s level of intelligence before engaging with them,  your behavior will show it. You might have experienced conversations where the other participant finishes your thoughts and dismisses everything you say.  The other five people in the conversation can explain why this is happening.

Now that you know that there are three versions of you in every one-on-one conversation in which you engage, you may be asking yourself how to ensure that at least two of those versions represent the same reality. While I have yet to find a definitive answer to that question, I do know that awareness is the first step. Popular wisdom wants us to believe that information is power. This is one of the situations in which that assertion proves true. The next step consists in aligning who you are with who you think you are. I have to warn you, it’s easier said than done. And it’s not a one and done type of endeavor. You will need to continuously monitor and make adjustments when necessary. That’s really all I have been able to do successfully. And I believe you can do it too.


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