In the fifth season of The Office, Pam goes with Michael on a speaking tour to all the branches of Dunder Mifflin, including the one managed by Karen (aka Jim’s ex-girlfriend). Pam was the reason Jim broke up with Karen and Pam knows it, so she’s pretty nervous about the meeting. There’s a cutaway interview with Pam where she says, “I hate the idea that someone out there hates me.”
That quote has always stuck with me in a heavy way because it sums up how I’ve felt about so many acquaintance relationships – colleagues, friends-of-friends, people like that – where it seems another person doesn’t have quite the right impression of me. I’m not talking about family members or close friends, people who (hopefully) know you well enough to either dismiss or talk through any problematic misconceptions. I’m talking about people who only know you very shallowly or people you might have had only a couple interactions with who happened to see you in an odd light.
Oftentimes we hear, through a mutual acquaintance, social media, or some other innocent source, that someone we once knew views us in a negative light.
How do you let go of that concern?
How to let the comments I hear from others’ go has been a huge lesson I have been learning lately. Sometimes we are unable to get proper closure for some personal and professional relationships, which can leave them open for someone to interpret us in a negative way that may not be accurate.
Maybe that acquaintance’s view of you stems from a time they interacted with you when you were having a bad day, when you didn’t come across well to them. Since this isn’t someone you know well or see often, there’s no way for them to clarify their perception of you.
How do you deal with others’ negative perceptions of you when the relationship isn’t close enough to just talk it out and sort through the problems they (might mistakenly) have with you?
This is not a who’s right and who’s wrong situation.
The first thing you have to realize is that it’s a trap to think you can fix another person’s perception of you. You don’t have to have a discussion with someone about whether or not they have the right perception of you. You just have to have the confidence in yourself and who you are. After all, not everyone will like everyone. Just because someone doesn’t particularly like you on a personal level doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person. It just means that that person has a personal preference that they believe you haven’t met. You can’t control or change someone’s inclination.
The second thing to remember is that there’s a good chance this other person doesn’t actually know you well enough to know whether or not they truly like you. This is someone who you’ve only had minimal interaction with. They don’t know your whole story; they’ve only seen a corner of a page.
After all, not everyone will like everyone. Just because someone doesn’t particularly like you on a personal level doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person.
Just because another person has a negative view of you doesn’t mean that their negative view is wrong – from their perspective, anyway. That’s why you can’t treat it as a “who’s right and who’s wrong” situation. It’ll just lead to two people who are sure they’re each right yelling at each other, and that doesn’t help anyone. Don’t return negativity with negativity. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt, choose to believe they aren’t out to get you and that they just saw you in an odd situation, and be confident in the person you know you are.
If you have an opportunity to seek resolution with someone who misinterpreted something that you said, then you should take the time to clear things up. Do so from a place of peace — wanting to see restoration — not from a place of feeling defensive. It’s important to recognize the moment where you are able to reconcile and understand each other, take advantage of those moments when you can because often you aren’t able to have time to seek clarity with an acquaintance.
Learn to allow only certain opinions to matter.
If you’re concerned with understanding people around you and becoming a better, more confident, more caring person, be careful to not absorb feedback from just anyone. It can be difficult to have a full perspective of yourself from your own point of view, so this is when character feedback becomes important. Think about whose opinions you value: your spouse, your best friend, your parents; your boss, employee, or co-worker; mentors, pastors, or coaches. Whoever it is, determine who are the people who can best speak into your life and help give you direction. These are the people who really know you and can help you recognize the difference between a momentary failing and a negative pattern. These are the outlooks that matter.
When you hear critical comments about yourself from people who aren’t on that list, know that they ultimately only have as much power as you’re willing to give them. Sometimes new people can help us identify things we need to work on that those who are familiar with our habits can miss, but it’s important to have a healthy amount of self-confidence in order to know when such a person has the right idea about you or not. If someone who doesn’t know you well (or who doesn’t know you well anymore) tells you something you know isn’t true about yourself, don’t give it worth.
… determine who are the people who can best speak into your life and help give you direction. These are the people who really know you and can help you recognize the difference between a momentary failing and a negative pattern.
We can give words so much power when we sit and meditate on them. Instead, when someone says something about you that you don’t agree with, let their words roll off your back. Believe that you have a good view of yourself so that when others say something that doesn’t align with who you know yourself to be, you can choose to let the false words in your life fall away.
How do you deal with a wrong perception of yourself? Do you let it slide or seek to restore?
Images via Maddie Greer