Perception is Reality
The phrase—Perception is Reality—has always bothered me, particularly as a member of a generation that values authenticity and individuality. We are workforce of individuals on a quest to make a name for ourselves, empowered by a technological revolution that instantaneously allows us to publish our thoughts and ideas to a brave new world. We don’t want our personal image defined or judged by anything or anyone beyond our own existential will to define it—as reflected in our daily FaceBook status updates. History is made by those who Tweet it!
Or so we would like to think.
Fact is, other people’s perceptions of you in the workplace write just as much of your legacy as all the time you spent crafting a clever and creative social network profile. Like it or not, perception does matter when you’re working with other people. No matter how much we want others to think we are hip and cool because of the new and savvy way we go about our business at work—others are always defining us by what we do (or what we sometimes don’t do), as much as we are trying to define ourselves through our quest for individuality.
Whether it’s a conflicting style of dress or style of communication (@that post you made last week, complaining about your colleagues lack of urgency), people are consistently creating and alternative reality about you. Even though you had a great time at your best friends birthday party last week, your colleagues (some of which are also FaceBook “friends”) may not find your double fisted wine cooler bottle photos as entertaining as you did while celebrating the anniversary your friend’s birth. The perception of carelessness or immaturity—even if you were being a perfectly responsible adult (minus the Coyote Ugly table dance)—can translate into your workplace relationships.
One voicemail left unanswered for a period of more than 24 hours may fall short of the expectations of one co-worker who complains to three co-workers. Those three co-workers bring it up over lunch to four other co-workers. And the perception grows into an even greater reality—whether it is true or not. When speculate as to why a project wasn’t delivered within a certain period of time, assuming that you let the project fall into a “dark hole,” they begin to assume you’re disorganized. When people start making up the reasons for your personal or professional behavior, they can start creating a reputation for you—and that can become a big problem.
A good self leader wants to manage their own reputation by being proactive and wise about what they share with others—in the real world and the virtual one. Little things like, being organized, keeping promises, following up, and simply keeping your eyes and ears open for any “bad press,” will help you develop and maintain healthy relationships—a major point of power for your workplace success.
Unfortunately, many colleagues don’t come directly to you to clarify a perception that they may have about you, but indirectly gossip or question your reputation in front of others—and not always with spite or malice. Be willing to take in, even false perceptions about your work, so that you can actively engage those perceptions and work hard on maintaining a good reputation within your organization.
Though you are not the sum total of all the negative perceptions others may have about you, those perceptions are a part of an equation that defines who you are. But denying that perception is reality will only hurt you and your reputation in the long run. It is better to actively engage those perceptions and work hard to build Raving Fans with every client you serve, than to sit back and ignore the rumors. Until you inoculate yourself with this reality, you may suffer the unconscious fate of an unmanaged perception rearing it’s ugly head on you, your team, and your career.
Jason Diamond Arnold
Co-Author of Situational Self Leadership in Action
Blanchard Keynote Speaker