Projection – What Picture Are We Creating?

by Ros Kitson

04 18, 2014 | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 comments

I have been motivated to write about this by some comments on a Facebook status.  So often I find these discussions that show up really interesting food for thought.

The post started off with the following picture:

We often find ourselves in situations where we don’t feel we’re getting a great response from people. Sometimes that will happen, but how we respond to it makes a big difference.

So, firstly we need to acknowledge that we often have a desired outcome to our communication.  For example, if I said “hello” to someone, I would probably expect them to say “hello” back.  If they said “yellow” back, it would somewhat confuse me.

So the next stage would probably be for me to ask myself why they’ve said that.  They may be trying to be funny.  They may have misheard what I said and “yellow” might be a completely valid response to what they thought they heard.  They might have some kind of learning disability which causes them to respond in an unusual manner.  Or some other options.

So, what most people do in this situation, usually unconsciously, is ask themselves why they might have responded to a “hello” with “yellow”.  This means we’ve missed the option of mishearing because we’ve already assumed the initial message got through.  We also may make other assumptions which continue to narrow down the options we get.

Maybe we decide that there is no way we’d respond in that way because to us it isn’t funny, it isn’t clever and it doesn’t make sense.  Therefore if we were to respond that way, we would be being extremely rude.

We then project this onto the other person and deduce that they must have been being rude to us.

Then we have an area for possible conflict, especially if the other person projects back onto us their assumptions.  In a more serious example than the one above, it could escalate into a massive falling out.

People can often mis-hear of mis-understand us, or we can with them.  What might seem like a perfectly reasonable statement when it leaves the sender can be received in a very different way.

People have different values.  What might seem rude or offensive to one person, might not even register on the radar of etiquette for someone else.  This can be particularly relevant where there are cultural differences. but it’s best not to assume that a similar culture means similar values.

I’ve found that people very rarely intend to offend.  We want harmonious relationships in our lives.  However, if we mistake our projected meaning for a correct interpretation, we are unlikely to give the other person the chance to explain or make amends.

So what is the solution to all this?  It comes down to awareness, as does so much in life.  If someone’s response seems strange, consider there may be an alternative reason to the one that seems to be glaring us in the face.  The key is to catch yourself and break the unconscious pattern.  Once you realise you may be projecting, you can consider other possible reasons for their response.  The best way of resolving the situation is to ask the person what they meant by their response.  Clear, honest and open communication can go a long way to clear up misunderstandings.

So next time you feel uncomfortable, consider whether you are projecting your beliefs onto the situation.

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  1. Is it wrong that I just want to go and say 'yellow' to people now?! 😉

  2. On a more serious note, I think this is at the root of the main cause of mis-communications between people. We tend to think that people will react to things the way that we would when that is often far from the case. True communication only really happens when we are able to listen not just to what people are saying but to how they might be hearing us as well. An interesting article, thanks Ros.

  3. Ros Kitson says:

    Haha. I think it's great that you want to go and say "yellow" to people. I'd love to hear the responses you get if you actually do this. 🙂

    And thank you for your more "serious" comment. Communication is so important and I think there is so much more to it than we often realise. 🙂

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