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Book Review: No One Understands You and What to Do About It
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Book Review: No One Understands You and What to Do About It by Heidi Grant Halvorson

No One Understands You and What to Do About It

Written by: Heidi Grant Halvorson. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 2015. 212 pages. US$22.00 (hard cover).
Reviewed by: Charles Hammer, John Wiley & Sons

No One Understands You and What to Do About It

I like to think of myself as smart, funny, not too ugly, and the kind of person who gets things done. But what if I discovered that most of my colleagues find me dull, dim, and just plain ugly? Would it matter to me professionally? As a product manager who relies on people across the organization to get my work done, the answer is a clear yes.

This is the kind of problem Heidi Grant Halvorson helps us understand and fix in her book No One Understands You and What to Do About It. Halvorson is the Associate Director of Columbia Business School’s Motivation Science Center and a prolific author. She describes various effects, biases, and lenses that unconsciously affect how we think about each other. She argues that as a business person, understanding these things can help get budgets approved, get projects delivered, and yield happier employees.

Halvorson’s basic idea is that we are bad at understanding how other people see us. This is mostly because we think people see us as we want to be seen, because we think other people see the world the same way we see it. We might think being smart and efficient should win respect, when it turns out that warmth and empathy are much more important.

To begin, we cannot underestimate the importance of the first impression someone gets of us, because they can last forever. Most of the first impression is unconscious. Because we generally don’t want to expend a lot of mental energy, our minds tend to unconsciously rely on stereotypes when forming an impression. “If you are handsome and charming, people will assume you are probably smart and trustworthy, too,” the author writes. We examine our body types, face shapes, posture, eye contact, ethnicity, and gender when forming an impression.

In one of the more disturbing sections of the book, the author describes an experiment that showed that even people who are not consciously racist or sexist can make decisions based on stereotypes when under stress. Thus, the best time to review resumes or conduct interviews would be when you are relaxed and calm.

For those of us who need to get people in power to do something, the author provides several pieces of important advice. People with power are focused on their own goals and rely even more on stereotypes than the rest of us. If you are trying to get their attention, you have to be doing something that is helping their goals. Otherwise, they will largely ignore you.

Another way to deal with powerful people is to understand how you affect their egos. If you are a threat to their self-esteem because you work in a similar capacity with similar skills, you need to compensate for this. One way to do that is to make the other person feel like you are in a group together.

If you’re trying to get something approved, consider whether the person is more prevention-focused or promotion-focused. The first is more concerned with protecting what they have; the second is more interested in gains or wins. If they are promotion-focused, emphasize growth in your requests. If they are prevention-focused, emphasize protecting your market share or revenue. I generally find that the higher you go in a large corporate, the most prevention-minded people you find. Most lawyers and finance people live and breathe prevention.

In the end, you can get people to change their minds about you even though it is very difficult. Essentially, you need to motivate them to enter another phase of thinking that allows them to question themselves and reconsider information. Some methods include spending time with them, making them need you, and genuinely apologizing if you did something wrong.

In a somewhat strange contradiction, the best time to engage with this person may be when they feel out of control. For example, a corporate restructuring is under way, a project is not going well, or they have a new boss. This puts our minds in a mode of seeking more information and trying to find allies.

If you’ve never thought much about the impression you make on other people or you have a hard time getting other people to help you, this book is a great place to start for all of us to get a little better.

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