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Perceptions - what makes you stand out?
Oct 31, 2012 • 5 minutes

Perceived vs Projected Image

Source : Stable Diffusion

(Revised on 13/02/2023)

Thought Experiment on Perceived Image vs Projected Image

Every time I look at people judging others and creating perceptions about them. They “judge” people on their behavior, actions, and speech. What appears to them differs from what others intend to do, act, or talk about. This difference between perception and intention causes confusion. But one’s act rarely gets closure, the person who is committing an act or the person who perceives or is at the receiving end of the action. For years I have pondered on this topic in two ways; what people think about me and how I feel about them and vice versa.

Everyone judges someone else because they want them to behave like or become better than them - that’s the perceived image. On the other hand, they want people to know “what they are rather than who they are,” and that’s the projected image.

We are continuously trying to project better version of ourselves. The mismatch between “projected” vs. “perceived” image causes misjudgment about the person.

Over the period of time this mismatch grows beyond the appropriate tolerance levels because people are already getting trained/annoyed/pleased over time. This tends to make “highly” biased, resulting in the judgment of every action being biased. People make up their minds about the person as useless or a superstar.

More often than not usually people end up perciving other in negative context than positive way. At times these triggers are caused by a single action. Since people have already made up their minds about the person, so it will have a view about the person being stupid or useless. Usually, this single action causes people to give up on others or start ignoring others.

On the other hand, we usually don’t care about perceived image but keep working on the projected image by keeping in mind our ideal hero and improving to match the ideal personality. The reason is mostly because there is no feedback loop.

People do think differently. I have learned how people perceived me as being stubborn, arrogant, and rigid; just because I did not behave the way they wanted me to, while I have all the right to believe I have been right all the time. I have learned to work on this tension between balancing your appearance vs. what you are. This does not mean that you should stop being what you are or start putting up a enforced-optical-facad. It means that you should be aware of the fact that people will perceive you differently than what you are. Because enfored-optical-facade is not what you are, it is what you want people to perceive you as, and it won’t look good in the long run.

In the past I have faced these issues mulitple times, where I did not like the way people behaved and have taken drastic action based on instant reaction and influenced by the rush of hour. But that’s not right if you are put up in that situation repeatedly. May be it’s time to think about the way you are behaving and because certainly something is not right.

I have learned to find the right balance and take out positive hints and start over again to think through and introspect my acts. It has not only helped me to keep myself calm but also helped me understand others’ points of view. People are always right in how they react because they have the proper context and correct opinion they have formed over time.

One can’t change that perceived image overnight; someone has to understand why that image was formed, why people thought that way, and why they reacted that way. It’s like trust, the way you build it over time, and it can shatter in a moment into pieces by an act of stupidity.

I believe “personal perceived image” is a very subjective act that builds over time. If you start doing what might fix it, within reasonable limits, as to what others like, express in a manner that others can understand, and bring behavioral changes throughout your lifetime, then things might settle down for better relationships, whether it’s family, colleagues, friends or strangers.

For example, At ThoughtWorks we played Age of Empires every evening. And people thought our team had limited work and plays during work time. No one bothered to check that we used to work late at night - because they were not exposed to that fact since they left pretty early from the office. So the perceived image was that we were a bunch of knuckleheads playing games every evening.

How do you fix this? We can’t go explaining everyone? So we moved our Age of Empire gameplay time to later in the evening and worked through regular hours, it did cause some inconvenience because we did not get that much-required break, but then we introduced Friday night gaming and other stuff… It was just a perceived image that got better over the period, and then we could resume what we did earlier, but it was more than six months affair.

Perception outlives reality.

On the other hand - whenever I had a perception about someone, and others disagreed with my views, instead of being firm in my opinion, I tried to get involved more in their world to figure out whether my perception was correct.

Being empathetic helps because we seldom understand others’ acts unless we are in the same shoes.

People never change as to who they are, but they can certainly change how they interact with others. It’s not easy to change, but it’s not impossible either. It’s just a matter of consistency and patience.

Appearing dogmatic is super easy, but it’s hard to be consistent.

I have learned the hard way that we need to become patient listeners. We should not do things that we won’t tolerate if someone behaves like that to us. To have a respectful life, we must have respectful interactions with everyone. Treat them as if you are treating yourself.