On Being Misunderstood

April 27th, 2010 Comments

One of my favorite books is Please Understand Me, it is a great primer on the Myers-Brigs Temperament Survey.    The opening lines are significant for anyone who feels frequently misunderstood.  It is also a great book for anyone who is trying to understand themselves – or others.  As an employee, or employer/supervisor, I’ve found it particularly helpful to understand those who work for me – and I’ve especially appreciated employer/supervisors who have taken the time to understand me.

These two lines speak volumes:

If I do not want what you want, please try not to tell me that my want is wrong.  Or if I believe other than you, at least pause before you correct my view.”

Steven Covey says it well, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” But how many of us do this?  Or even try?  And if we try, do we do a good job of understanding others?  Most of us are so intent on refuting arguments, proving ourselves right, or making our own points – that we usually fail and really understanding another’s point of view.  We need to do better at this – but this isn’t really my point.

I figured out something about myself today through one of my semi-regular epiphanies.  While I’ve known some of the details, today the bigger picture became more clear to me.  I like it when that happens.  Here’s what I learned:

  • First, I already know that I’m frequently misunderstood.
  • I also know that I seem to see patterns in the matrix that others don’t – the above named book helped me to see this about myself.
  • I also know that one of the reasons I’m frequently misunderstood is because I don’t speak in concrete terms – instead I tend to talk in abstract ways, about abstract principles, regarding abstract concepts.
  • Also, as an aside, I tend to annoy the heck out of people with all this abstraction – and they tend to annoy the heck out of me with the detail of concrete thinking.

I read today in a great New York Times post about probabilities:

So we sacrificed a little precision for a lot of clarity.”

I thought it fit me well.  However, in my case, it is about precision of principles, not precision of details.  And the clarity, isn’t always immediately clear.  It takes some distillation.  Like a good recipe, there are a multitude of ingredients and it is often the nuanced ingredients that make a good dish great!

So, if you’re still reading, and I haven’t lost you in the matrix of babble, without further adieu, here is what I learned about myself today…

When making a point, I often savor the ingredients, measure their effectiveness, and seek to balance the bouquet with the various textures and gustatory perceptions.  Unfortunately, in a world accustomed to fast food, the price of gourmet concepts is too high a price.  People want me to cut to the chase – I get that.

The problem?  The problem is, I don’t know how to quit being an idea geek.  I don’t know how to cook simply – and be better understood.  So please, at least pause before you claim that I’m wrong.  To some, it may appear that I’m wandering – I get that.  To others it may appear that I’m imperfect and broken – I am (but that’s beside the point 😉 ).  To others, it may appear that I’m lost – I’m not.  I’m on a journey of discovery and purpose.  I’m an explorer.  I will follow the clues and pioneer a new landscape.

This doesn’t make me wrong, just misunderstood.


  1. gwalter says:

    Funny Denny – this probably explains why there is a dearth of M/B tests available online. When I gave this to my leadership team a few years ago, and later included it in the SHAPE (spiritual gifts, etc) survey for our Membership 101 class, I just typed it out long hand.

    Hopefully they are a little less ham-handed these days – and have learned the value of Free.

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