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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

Why no one will ever understand you. And that’s OK. [Wise Wednesdays]

Persuasion and influence seem to be a big deal at the moment. Gone are the days of command-and-control in the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world, or so we’re told. Constant competitive “disruption” means the boss can’t tell you what to do because they just don’t know. So we influence rather than dictate to leave room for innovation. Influence is not a benign topic either. From micro-targeting in order to manipulate elections to mental health issues and suicides among celebrities in the social media limelight, we have to consider whether and how to strengthen our boundaries and expand our awareness of the sensory and cognitive input coming our way.

An article in the latest Harvard Business Review explored trends in “influence”. It commented on how easy it is for people to be manipulated and also how little people do to protect themselves against it. Is it naivete? Or an underestimation of the extent of manipulation around us? Who knows. But it seems that manipulators know one thing: people want to feel understood. It’s not a bad thing in itself. The problem is in the intention.

Understand yourself before seeking to be understood

The truth is that no one can ever truly understand you. Being completely understood is an illusion. Why? Because understanding is a cognitive function relating to concepts and information. And you are much more than a concept like a personality, cluster of behaviours or image that can be grasped through some kind of intellectual understanding. This one insight alone reduces your risk of manipulation.

You might think: “Oh, they really know me. They understand what I like and don’t like and what I want. They know how to treat me when I get stressed or out of line.” Do they? Or do they understand a certain aspect of you? If I asked you would you rather feel that someone loves you or that they’ve described you perfectly, which would you choose?

As a coach, I never presume to know what people want or think. I make it clear the process is a joint exploration diving into their patterns of thinking and behaving so they can free themselves from those that no longer serve them. At best, I can play back what I hear and suggest hypotheses that they can confirm or infirm, like: you say that you’re afraid of turning down this project because turning it down will damage your career, is that true?

Often people leave a session saying it went in an unexpected direction and that they’re clearer and calmer about what they need to do. It’s not because I understand them better. But they might understand themselves better. I just ask questions I don’t know the answers to. I stay curious and pertinent questions emerge. More importantly I offer an open, accepting space for their own answers to emerge and flourish, like fertile soil for seeds of insight.

The gift of space

So it’s OK if people don’t understand you or “get you”. That’s your job. Others can help you “get you” by offering a calm, accepting space. And that is a beautiful gift in this age. Most people find it hard to articulate what they want or understand themselves:

  • They’re busy

  • They’re overwhelmed

  • They don’t have time to sit and reflect

  • They’re not even sure it’s OK to want what they want, even if they knew what it was.

But it doesn’t mean someone else knows. You might have noticed how little other people know about you when you meet old friends and family who still treat you like the younger person you were. You notice the little comments that suggest they haven’t caught up with where you are now in terms of experience, awareness and knowledge. If you play the role, you’ll find yourself regressed and disappointed before dinner is over.

For most of us:

  • Understanding who we really are is a lifelong unfolding

  • Our psychological self changes moment-to-moment

  • We understand each other best in the quiet moments between thoughts, words and projections

That’s why slowing down in conversation is so important. At best, we can hope to share a moment of connection and recognise ourselves in others during a quiet moment of knowing. You might smile at each other without knowing why. It’s a felt recognition rather than a conceptual understanding.

In the sad wake of another celebrity suicide, we’re reminded of the superficiality of the images and stories we project onto others. It’s an act of true self-love to spend time in self-acceptance and self-understanding, beyond thoughts, narratives and projections, embracing your all of your humanity.

Have a great week,


p.s. Two spaces have become available for the Leaders Circle this evening. If you’d like to come please book here and I’ll send you the venue details. See you later!

And if you want to go further in transforming your career, life or leadership style:

1) Join the Leaders in Wellbeing Summit | EXPO 2020 in Jersey. This may be for you if you’re an organisational leader or responsible for staff and want to take time to immerse yourself in new and healthier ways of creating organisational culture. Find out more here. 2) Come to the Leaders Circle. Be in a room with likeminded professionals for 2 hours of group transformational coaching and let go of limiting beliefs that hold you back. Sign up here to receive the information about the next one. 3) One-to-one coaching. Go through a personalised transformational process, get unstuck and create the career and life that are aligned for you. We work together for 3 to 12 months to get you on a new career and life trajectory. Book an introductory call here. 4) Share it! Caring transforms.

One of the factors is that by letting go of attachment to goals, their attention and therefore energy is less absorbed in one direction. It’s freed up to generate better ideas that get them to the goal faster with less effort.

They start letting go of projects that aren’t aligned and suddenly they have the more cognitive space. This enables creative solutions. Recovering cognitive space also means they can spot and engage with opportunities. It can seem magical because things that seemed impossible just fall into place. For example, you finally get a call back about an opportunity, the investment comes through or a thorny problem just goes away. How much of this is the magic of flow and how much is coincidence is up for debate. But it feels great!

Creative thinking that generates innovative solutions and “aha moments” has been shown to require space, quiet and freedom from focused, goal-oriented executive functioning of the brain. That’s why you get your aha moments in the shower, on a walk or in the middle of an unrelated activity. It also requires an deepening of awareness inwards to activate all that subconscious knowledge and experience in your mind.

Staying in the flow of aha moments more consistently entails a shift in mindset (from the doer/controller) to the (co-creator). This requires more free time and space in your diary and using it to direct your attention inward.

Quiet space + deep awareness

Goal-oriented doer/controller =======> Co-creator in flow

[See the video for a couple of tips]

This isn’t just a nice-to-have. IBM, a company that has successfully reinvented itself despite fierce competition from Apple, refer to creativity as the reason why agile companies create and sustain a high return on investment (ROI). Its global survey of 1500 CEO's (Capitalizing on Complexity) found that creativity was considered to be the number one leadership trait for the future.

Yet organisations often fail to provide the right environment to foster this higher cognitive functioning in people while expecting them to “innovate”. Work culture expectations are still clustered around analysis and task delivery. But that ain’t going to cut the mustard for happy, fruitful and fulfilling work in the 21st century.

So if you find yourself in an environment that doesn’t allow you to foster your inner-genius, you can always create the space for yourself in your own time. After all, you may work for an organisation, but you are always the boss of you.

Have a great week,


Update: The next Leaders Circle is fully booked. We won’t have one in March due to travel but if you’d like to explore one-to-one coaching on career transformation, the entrepreneurial mindset or leadership in service, you’re welcome to email me on I’ll send you a questionnaire to complete and if I think I can help I’ll offer you a time to speak. Or we can have a short call and see where it goes.

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