We project things at work all the time
You’ve heard me say it a million times – there is no such thing as an objective reality. Our reality is filtered through the veil of our experiences and our emotions, both things we’re aware of and things that exist in our subconscious.
One of the ways this rears its head at work is through psychological projection. That is, we see in others things that we are really feeling ourselves…but may not want to admit to or deal with. That’s why we project them onto others – it makes it easier for us to see ourselves as a victim of whatever is going on because it’s someone else’s fault. Here are three examples of when this can occur at work.
“My boss hates me”
Have you ever said “I really love her, but my boss hates me”? No, probably not – when we feel like someone dislikes us, oftentimes it’s a projection of how we feel about them. That means that if you think for a moment “my boss hates me”, you’ve probably got some negative feelings pent up towards them.
There are all kinds of reasons why we might dislike someone. Sometimes it might be that we get a bad feeling about them the moment that we met them, or maybe they’ve done something that overtly rubbed us the wrong way. And when that happens, it can be really easy to start picking out things that they do to “prove” to yourself that they hate you – looking at you the wrong way in a meeting, or they send you a quick email and you interpret it as snippy. It could be anything, really.
Here’s an example: I once had a boss that reported me to HR for supposedly giving her the silent treatment because apparently she said “hi” to me one morning and I didn’t say “hi” back. Now, I have no recollection of this ever happening…but I will very readily admit that I am basically useless before 10am and it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that she could have said “hi” to me in the morning and I just didn’t hear it. Do I think she honestly thought I was giving her the silent treatment? Probably. But the ironic thing was that, at the same time this happened, she would go days without speaking to me, including not answering simple questions posed via email. It’s not an out of this world conclusion to say that she was projecting her very conscious wrong-doings on to me to feel justified in her actions.
If you find yourself thinking that someone at work hates you, step back and think about how you feel about them. You might not have any tangible reason to dislike them – sometimes we just have gut instincts about people. Ask yourself if you could be projecting what’s going on with you onto them. Maybe they don’t really hate you at all and you could get past whatever your issue is and go on to work well with them.
Areas for Improvement
“My boss hates me” is just one of the psychological projections we might make at work. Here’s another one: If we know we’ve been messing around on Facebook all day, it can be easy for us to perceive our co-workers or team members as lazy or procrastinating. Or if we’re leaving earlier than we should be on a regular basis, it’s very easy to point out out others doing the same. And projection like this becomes a real problem when it comes to the HR official annual review.
One of the problems with most performance reviews is that they are purely subjective, and the person being reviewed is more or less at the mercy of his or her boss. If you’re in charge of someone else’s review, make sure you’re not projecting your own weaknesses on to them. For instance, maybe you’ve got a bad habit of showing up late to meetings, and maybe the person you’re reviewing made that mistake last week for a meeting with you. Even if it was an out of character occurrence for them, you might still feel the need to ding them for it on their review as a defense against something you know is a weakness of yours.
This type of thing is especially true if you have a team member that is similar to you in terms of shared weaknesses. Make sure you’re approaching it as objectively as possible by being aware of where you overlap! Make sure you’re giving just as much attention to the areas where you behave differently (and, of course, seeing all the positive stuff they do as well!).
“She’s so aggressive.”
Here’s one I hear a lot, and I have it labeled as “she” because I hear it much more in regards to women then I do from men (and, yes, most of the “my boss hates me” stuff I hear is said about women as well!). That’s not based on psychological research – simply my own experience. If you have someone at work that you perceive as bossy, it might be more of a reflection of how you perceive yourself than it is about what they’re actually doing. Make sure to ask yourself if they’re really behaving aggressively, or are they simply trying to do the job they were hired to do. Some of the most aggressive women that I’ve ever worked with where the first to call out aggressive behaviors in others! Most of the time, when you get to the root cause of it, you’ll find a distinct lack of self-confidence is usually to blame in the person making the accusation. That’s a form of projection as well – they can’t understand why others don’t have the confidence issues they do so they overcompensate in the other direction.
Flip the switch
At the end of the day, when we’re projecting our own feelings onto others, we’re doing it as a form of defense because we don’t want to deal with negative emotions and feelings we’re having. But everyone has weaknesses. We’re human. There’s just no getting around it! When you find that you’re perceiving other people negatively, take a moment to flip the switch. Take a look in the mirror and really question if what you’re seeing is objective truth, or if it’s more of a reflection of what’s going on with you. Default to seeing yourself as the problem – that way, you can fix it!
Like this article?