How To Handle Being Misunderstood or Ignored

Toby Hazlewood

Have you considered that maybe it’s not all about you?
Sad face on a paper bagPhoto by arash payam on Unsplash

When we don’t get the reaction from someone that we think we’re due it can be the hardest thing to understand and make sense of.

  • We’ve laid out a compelling argument or given our best sales pitch.
  • The line we’ve just delivered was well-rehearsed and highly polished.
  • We told a story that was convincing, comprehensive and utterly enthralling (as far as we could tell).

And what did we get in return?


Or worse we got a response that was apathetic, argumentative or disinterested. Or we were misunderstood. Or ignored.

How could it be that when our message was so on-point and irrefutable that it’s received with such apathy and indifference? Were we speaking another language? Did they not get it?

The thing is, no matter whether it happens at work or home, with our loved-ones or complete strangers there’s another factor at play — one we often lose sight of:

It’s not just about us. It’s not just about what we said or how we said it.

It’s not us — it’s them.

What are you not seeing?

As self-centered human beings we forget that our daily interactions are with others of the same species who have the same selfish drives and interests that we do. Their focus is upon themselves and what’s going on in their own lives — dealing with their own challenges, seeking their own advantages and confronting their own fears, inadequacies and demons.

We all lack empathy and the ability (or willingness) to project ourselves into the other person’s shoes. We kid ourselves that if we put across a compelling enough case or a well-reasoned argument then they cannot fail to be won over.

We forget that each interaction is 50% shaped by what’s said and 50% by what’s heard and how it’s interpreted. No matter how flawlessly we may have presented our opinion there’s still a gulf to be bridged by those words if they’re to be heard and appreciated as we intended. Much of the impact will be lost if the other person is distracted, mentally a million miles away, thinking about some other worry while we’re delivering our sales pitch.

When I feel misunderstood and like my words are being misinterpreted or misconstrued it can hurt. Indifferent responses seem malicious; like the other person is deliberately confusing what I’m saying or worse still — they aren’t listening with the rapt attention that I vainly believe I’m due.

Why don’t they hear me?

I don’t know what pressures they’re facing. Maybe they started the day fighting with their partner. Their kid might be sick. They might have just received bad news, or have lost someone close to them. Maybe they’ve got a stack of overdue bills and no money to pay them.

Maybe they’re just having a bad day.
Sad DogPhoto by REGINE THOLEN on Unsplash

Maybe it’s not you?

When I’m lacking empathy I don’t contemplate such things. I jump to conclusions, desperate to apportion blame.

I see only the lack of support, indifference or resistance to my requests. I smart from their disinterest and apathy towards my ideas.

If only I could stop thinking about myself for a second and try and fathom what’s going on in their minds and in their lives then I may learn more about why things aren’t landing as I’d hoped they would. I might just be able to understand a little better. I might realize that it’s not all about me.

Their distractions may seem trivial and the things that they’re focused upon might appear unimportant or irrelevant. But at least it might help explain why the reacted as they did, or said what they said.

The safest assumption to make is that I have no clue what’s going on in their lives any more than they know what’s going on in mine. All I can do is to muster a little empathy and have a bit of patience. I can accept that it’s not just about me, and about more than what I do and what I say.

What’s going on beneath the surface?

Everyone has 90% of their iceberg of worries, troubles, obsessions, contemplations, and dreams hidden beneath the surface of their day to day lives. The outside world only gets to see the 10% above the surface, and even then that tip of the iceberg is prone to flawed judgment and interpretation by those who see it.

Perhaps we’d all do well to be a little less self-righteous in our interactions with others and a little more patient and understanding, especially if we don’t get the response we feel we deserve?

Empathy is the key that allows us to elevate ourselves above the situation, to consider the nuances and outside factors that may be playing a part in how those around us behave. Empathy helps us to make a more impartial assessment of our interactions with others when they don’t go how we hoped they would.

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Commentary, Interpretation and Analysis of News and Current Affairs

Florida State

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