“Whenever you're in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.” ~William James.

What is this hurricane that disrupts all relationships at work and home? In two words: Wrong perceptions. We form perceptions of other people based on: (a) our personal interactions and communication with them, and (b) how we think and feel about others because of this information. We then assume these perceptions are accurate and correct and act on them accordingly. Oh what a sad mistake! The winds start blowing.

Knowing how the brain works (an efficiency machine needing homeostasis) and how easily people can form wrong perceptions of others (the endless perceptual biases that occur), I am inclined to assume that the majority of our perceptions of others are far from correct. This includes the way others perceive us and our perception of that perception. And reactions to wrong perceptions, even when they are all we have to go on, usually don’t lead to the best outcome. This is something we can all easily identify with even though we often don’t do anything about it

If wrong perceptions are the hurricane that drives relationships south, then the eye of the storm is the perceptions we form of other people’s motivations or intentions, including those that we project from ourselves. We can project or perceive positive, neutral or negative motivations when dealing with others, depending on the general view we have of life, based on our personal experiences and thoughts about those experiences.

Fear and anxiety are the winds of the hurricane that are so disruptive to a relationship headed south, when expressed with contempt. And those negative feelings are usually associated with the un-clarity or distrust of our own primary motivation in the relationship or a similar negative perception of the other person’s motivation. Misperceiving a basically good and pure intention, because of the “bad” surface behaviors and words that speak louder, is very natural and understandable; however, it is the only point of entry to correct this misperception problem.

Correcting misperceptions at this level is very difficult because one has to be open and courageous to begin to question, whether his or her own intentions are pure, good, and honest aimed at a win-win outcome for all, or whether they are aimed more at a dishonest, manipulative “me win and you lose” direction. And of course, correcting wrong perceptions that would allow the relationship to head in the right direction, has to start with being open to the possibility that your perceptions of the other person aren’t necessarily correct, especially when it comes to what you quickly “see” on the surface vs. taking the time to understand their basic intentions underneath.

Wrong perceptions are formed and continue mostly by means of miscommunication, which starts with our own misperception of who we are, what we are really after, and how well we are succeeding in getting it. We are all in pursuit of intrinsically genuine happiness, using our god-given right of freedom to pursue it in our own chosen way.

This is where the conflicts arise and misperceptions of purpose and intentions fester. We all have our own different ideas of what this happiness is all about and the best path to get it, and it is easy to get in arguments about this and do things that are easily perceived as over-controlling or limiting the freedom of others in both work and personal relationships.

There only seems to be one way to view other people to avoid the contamination of wrong perceptions that lead to ineffective actions and reactions, which in turn diminish our success at reaching the ultimate goal we are all after—more happiness and less suffering. Getting to this viewpoint can be a slow and painful process, full of unhappy failures.

This best viewpoint is the one that helps us get in touch with our own best intentions in a relationship and communicate them in an honest way, without participating in the normal competitive tit for tat game. This is the only way to unravel the layers of misperceptions about the other person’s wrongly perceived intentions; and this is true because as it turns out, we all have the same good intentions in spite of alluring, transient proof to the contrary.

Getting to this last viewpoint is what life is all about—seeing the real reason for the hope and faith that none of us can misperceive or deny forever. In the meantime, it is most sensible to do what you can to make the inevitable hurricane winds less destructive.

This “healing” process starts with communicating past the miscommunication that lead to the wrong perceptions that we have of others and that they have of us, especially about wrongly perceived or miscommunicated intentions. And this in turn starts with embracing a very safe assumption that we all have good intentions, but just don’t always know the best way to carry them out for the best results that help us all. Wrong outcomes of good intentions are just misguided, as hard as that is to see sometimes. But the view is worth the effort to get there.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA, along with being a Sport Psychologist, Reality Repair Coach, Photographer and Writer living in the mountains of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, Re-braining for 2000 (MJR Publishing), Passwords to The Prosperity Zone (Authorlink Press), You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too (Executive Excellence), The Bow-Wow Secrets (Wisdom Tree), Do What Matters Most and “P” Point Management (Atlantic Book Publishers) and Reality repair Rx (Publish America). This article is part of his new book Reality Repair coming soon (Penguin). Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (425) 454-5011 or bcottringer@pssp.net