We don’t observe the world – we interpret it

 In Communication, Relationships

What do you see in this picture? Maybe you see a rocky shoreline or do you see two people?  Try tilting your head to the left.  The point is that we don’t observe the world around us, we INTERPRET  it. We take a little bit of information, make a bunch of assumptions, analyze, judge, label, and then come to a conclusion; AND we think we’re right! “It’s a rocky shoreline.”  This perspective that we have is the filter we use to jump to our conclusions, to make judgments and assessments. All of us have different perspectives based on our genetics and our life experiences. So really what this means is we all interpret the world DIFFERENTLY.

How many of you like mustard? I like mustard on my pretzels, sandwiches, and hot dogs. I like mustard with jalapeños, with horseradish, or with dill. WHAT? You don’t like mustard? How is it possible? What could you possibly not like about mustard? Everybody likes mustard! There must be something wrong with you. . .  This might be the type of reaction we have (at least in our minds) when we meet someone who has a different perspective or preference than us.  It’s actually a normal response based on how our brain is wired.   When we notice someone has a different way of interpreting the world, our brains signal “DANGER!”  This social threat registers as a real physical danger and can cause us to become defensive, suspicious, and distrusting.  Also our brains get hyper-focused on the differences and we can totally miss the many things we have in common.  You can imagine how this causes all kinds of problems with our ability to effectively cooperate, communicate and collaborate with others.

We get so comfortable with our own perspective that we can have a hard time realizing that other people have their own filters that may be different.  Refer to my post, You Disagree?  How Interesting! for one approach you can take.  It’s also very helpful to keep in mind a couple of common differences:

  • Some people are skeptical and questioning while others are easy going and accepting.
  • Some of us are internally reflective and moderately paced, while others are outwardly assertive and fast paced.

None of these are wrong or better.  We need all kinds.   The key is to find common ground or a common goal to build on.  Use different views as a reason for dialogue.  Ask questions to understand and not as a way to blame or judge.  Can you think of someone in your life or a past situation where these ideas could be useful?


Tina Hallis, Ph.D., a professional speaker and consultant for The Positive Edge, shares the Science of Success with organizations who want to create a more positive workplace so they can activate their people’s productivity and performance.  She is also an authorized partner for Everything DiSC®.

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