This is a guest post by Tom Harper, author of Through Colored Glasses: How Great Leaders Reveal Reality. You can find more of his work at Biblical Leadership.
If you’ve ever taken a personality test, you’ve confirmed you have certain skills, traits, tendencies, ways of working, and eccentricities that make you you.
Those tests, however, only go so deep into who you really are. They can’t determine your hurts, fears, desires or goals; they don’t know what your night was like last night, or the family issue you may be dealing with.
This inner life, where all our thoughts and desires occur, could be called our “first self.” The second self is the one we consciously present to the world (especially in social media), hoping to receive approval. It’s got a little more of a shine to it.
There’s also a third self. We don’t know them very well. In fact, others know this person better than we do.
People see each other through colored glasses. We filter, judge and label each other. Whether I’ve just met you, or have known you for years, I’ve got a biased impression of who you are. But in my mind, the person I perceive may or may not match your first or second selves.
The person I think you are is your third self. But there’s a problem. You can’t control my perception, not even on Facebook! I can’t see what’s in your heart all the time; I don’t know what kind of hurts or desires you may be harboring. I make assumptions about these things.
And that logically leads to another problem – you have a zillion third selves. Almost everyone that knows you has a slightly different perception of who you are. Their own filters and feelings sift your identity in ways outside your power.
People’s mistaken perceptions of each other can be devastating. Recently I overheard some people talking about me, and I have to say I was humbled. But it wasn’t that kind of humility when someone lavishes praise or attention – it was the kind that took me down a notch. It helped me see how some people perceive me, and it wasn’t pretty.
So how can we affect the way people perceive us?
Strategy #1: Develop a multifaceted personality
Though seeing ourselves through other people’s eyes is not easy, seasoned leaders shift and change various aspects of themselves, depending on what followers need or expect. Paul said, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).
This requires us to get in other people’s shoes and look through their colored glasses. When we attain at least some of their perspective, we can better understand their impressions and expectations of us. It helps us see blind spots or areas where we can improve.
Do we change who we are depending on who we’re with? Not at our core. We simply “become all things to all people,” for their benefit. Paul gave up his rights and customs in order to break down barriers. He risked his reputation to save people.
He never changed his beliefs or who he was in Christ, but he became a chameleon whenever he wanted to reach into people’s lives and help them become like him.
Strategy #2: Discipline your vision
Identifying with the pains and joys of others is a learned skill for me. But it is a discipline that has helped me in many interactions with employees, family members and friends.
Jesus saw the world around him through lenses of compassion. He saw into the heart of the demoniac, who just wanted to be free. He saw through the eyes of a promiscuous woman searching for spiritual truth. He saw with the eyes of the sick, the poor, and even the blind.
When we see from other people’s points of view, we find it easier to allow for their occasional bad moods, and to overlook their offenses. We can better serve them. We feel more compassion for them.
Adjusting our vision to look past people’s faults and offenses isn’t easy. But the more we do it, the more we see them as Jesus sees them.
Ironically, when we start doing this, people will start seeing us differently, too.
Unveiling your third self
How do we effectively get people to look past their preconceived notions and see who we really are?
As believers, we’re compelled to model ourselves after Jesus. He was a compassionate truth-teller unafraid to suffer for the benefit of others.
In your various roles and circles in life, who do people need you to be, for their benefit? How do you think they would like you to change? At times do you wish you were more relational, quieter, more passionate, or more self-controlled?
With God’s help, why can’t you become that person, inside and out?
If you’re a Christ-follower, the divine third Person – the Holy Spirit – is already in you, ready and waiting to start the process of change.
Ask him who you need to be in order to serve, help, comfort and lead better.
Ask him to help you emulate Christ, who became like us in order to save us.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that though he was rich, yet for your sake
he became poor, so that you
through his poverty might become rich.
– 2 Corinthians 8:9
This post is based on Through Colored Glasses: How Great Leaders Reveal Reality – A Leadership Fable, by Tom Harper (DeepWater Books, 2018). Available on Amazon and Audible.