How Is Projection A Stumbling Block to Clicking With People?

by Dr. Rick Kirschner on February 7, 2011

Have you ever heard someone describe another person as ‘judgmental’ or ‘negative’ or ‘selfish’ and thought, ‘Hey, if the shoe fits…’?  Then you’ve witnessed the phenomenon known as projection.  And that’s what today’s brief post is about.  Projection is one of the 9 stumbling blocks to clicking that I identify in my new Hyperion book, ‘How To Click With People: Building the Personal Side of Business (June 2011 release).

As a result of the coaching and counseling work I’ve been doing for the last 30 years, and the work I’ve been doing on myself during those same years, I’ve been fortunate to observe the pattern closely.  I’m of the opinion that if you work with enough people over a long enough period of time, you inevitably come to realize this humbling fact:  The traits and behaviors we dislike most in others tend to be traits and behaviors that we don’t like in ourselves.  Dislike pettiness?  Look inside.  Dislike undeserved criticism?  Chances are that you’re also too hard on yourself.  Dislike it when people don’t listen to you?  Maybe you don’t listen to you either.  And while we may not know that we have such traits, an outside observer could confirm it pretty easily.

You see this phenomenon wherever people live or work in close proximity.  It’s one of the great challenges in marriage, for example, because those disowned and disconnected parts of yourself are so danged obvious in the other person, yet hidden in your own blind spot.  And because you live with the person, you’re forced to see these unwanted aspects of yourself every single day!  Perhaps this is what is really meant by ‘familiarity breeds contempt.’   When such traits and behaviors are all too familiar, it’s human nature to disown our personal darkness by projecting it outward onto others. Yet dealing with our darkness outside ourselves is the most difficult, cumbersome and complicated way to go about it.

Indeed, if someone engages in a behavior you don’t like in yourself, even if you’re oblivious to it in yourself, you’ll be as hard on them as you would be on yourself if only you could observe yourself objectively.   Famed psychologist Carl Jung,  in his work on the ‘shadow’ side of ourselves, told us that all perception is projection.  And while that generalization may not be exactly true, it’s a good approximation to take into account when you’re having problems with other people.  Jung believed that this shadow part of ourselves is the result of identifying with our social mask (the way we want people to perceive us) at the expense of those parts of ourselves that we either fail to notice (because they don’t fit the social narrative we work so hard to get others to accept) or that we try to ignore (because they disturb our sense of identity so deeply).

Jung wasn’t alone in this.  Long before him, Greek philosophers like Epicurus held that you can’t really click with people until you’ve seen past your projections of them to discover who they really are.  Epicurus, by the way, is one of my favorite Greek philosophers, as he was so long ago able to see and understand much of what has now become our shared understanding of life and the world.  Read more about him here.  (

Don’t like that trait?  Figure out the trait you’d prefer, and begin developing it.  In this way, you can let people be themselves, instead of needing them to become a verson of you that you do not know and have not yet become.  Because if people are not really our projections, then finding this fact of the matter should be of more value than projecting and confirming the biases you have hidden that you carry against yourself.

Got feedback for me?  I promise not to say ‘You’re projecting.’   Just use the comment form below.

Be well,


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