Most of the time, Halvorson says, people don’t realize they are not coming across the way they think they are. “If I ask you,” Halvorson told me, “about how you see yourself—what traits you would say describe you—and I ask someone who knows you well to list your traits, the correlation between what you say and what your friend says will be somewhere between 0.2 and 0.5. There’s a big gap between how other people see us and how we see ourselves.”
This gap arises, as Halvorson explains in her book, from some quirks of human psychology. First, most people suffer from what psychologists call “the transparency illusion”—the belief that what they feel, desire, and intend is crystal clear to others, even though they have done very little to communicate clearly what is going on inside their minds.
Because the perceived assume they are transparent, they might not spend the time or effort to be as clear and forthcoming about their intentions or emotional states as they could be, giving the perceiver very little information with which to make an accurate judgment.
From this piece at the Atlantic, an overview of concepts from Heidi Grant Halverson's No One Understands You and What to Do About It. A useful catalog of psychological concepts like the primacy effect that are in play, and just good general advice not just for the home but the workplace.
We live in our own heads, it's not surprising we overestimate our own emotional transparency. In film school, for one class on directing actors, all of us directors spent time trying to emote into a mirror (you can also videotape yourself and watch yourself live to really amp up your own discomfort). It was a useful exercise in realizing just how inscrutable most people's faces can be, and also how hard it is to be a great actor. The concept of bitchy resting face is humorous but is just one example of how much baseline information asymmetry exists in day to day human relations.
The easiest solution? Overcompensate on communicating your feelings, and do so explicitly and specifically.
“If you want to solve the problem of perception,” Halverson says, “it’s much more practical for you to decide to be a good sender of signals than to hope that the perceiver is going to go into phase two of perception. It’s not realistic to expect people to go to that effort. Can you imagine how exhausting it would be to weigh every possible motivation of another person? Plus, you can’t control what’s going on inside of another person’s mind, but you can control how you come across.”
People who are easy to judge—people who send clear signals to others, as Halvorson suggests people do—are, researchers have found, ultimately happier and more satisfied with their relationships, careers, and lives than those who are more difficult to read. It’s easy to understand why: Feeling understood is a basic human need. When people satisfy that need, they feel more at peace with themselves and with the people around them, who see them closer to how they see themselves.