This is not what I meant…….
The whole world looks yellow to a jaundiced eye
Some time back I was talking about the experience of facilitating a leadership development program for a group of regional managers of a company in the BFSI space to my friend Sandeep Kaul. I was sharing with him that a large percentage of these managers felt powerless in their role. They thought that in spite of all the hard work and the long hours put in by them, their bosses thought that they were not doing enough, and their team members called them “ Slave drivers” , “Hitler” and at times “Hari Sadu” ( after the naukri.com TV ad) behind their backs. I ended up spending a lot of time during the program trying to help them through this.
That is when Sandeep came up with this gem….
The whole world looks yellow to a jaundiced eye
For all those who don’t know Sandeep, he has this uncanny ability to sift through the chaff and hit the “ Bulls eye”.
The more I thought about what he had said, the more I realized that what he was talking about was a critical facet of leadership, that of Perception management. Most people tend to look at all leadership behaviors through the lens of their own experience. Their deductions and beliefs about a leaders action are all based on this … their own perception of what they think are the actions/intentions of the leader.
During a lot of my facilitation sessions and coaching engagements one of the most common refrain from leaders at all levels is …. This is not what I meant or intended. So if this is something which has also been happening to you, read on.
Leaders at all level spend a lot of time communicating and interacting with others – team members, managers, peers and customers. The higher you go in the leadership ladder, the more are the interactions, and which each interaction, the number of times perceptions about you are being formed or reinforced goes up exponentially. Most of us have good intentions and we want to be good leaders. We want to care for team members while at the same time challenging and pushing them to achieve more. We want to be empathetic to our team members when things are not going too well while at other times being honest with our feedback. It is a difficult balancing act that most leaders do on a regular basis, and for most of us it is very tough to get it right all the times.
So how do we manage the perceptions of others? How do we ensure that people perceive what we intend? How do we come across as genuine and trustworthy?
There is no one way in which all this can be achieved.
One of the things that I have now discovered that whenever there is a difference between what you intent and what others perceive, you need to check your behavior. People do not believe what you say or intend, they believe what you do. So if you are struggling with this aspect, take a critical look at how you behaved during the interaction. Some of this behavior may be involuntary, and a trusted friend or colleague could be asked to provide feedback so that this gap could be understood (Introspection).
The second is our body language. We all have developed mannerisms and a way of behaving over a period of time and most of the time we are not aware of this. When I switched careers from the army to corporate, in my first job I struggled with my team in the initial stages. I thought I was being very open and jovial with my team and they enjoyed the jokes which I cracked with them. About one year post joining, I went for a ISABs lab and among a number of other discoveries was one which solved this puzzle for me. The feedback I received on day 4 was that whenever I interacted with people who were younger to me (same as my team) they felt that I was condescending due to which they felt humiliated. The jokes cracked by me were also perceived to show my superiority over others and my smile was perceived to be all knowing. This came as a shock and it took me some time to recover. However, when I reflected on my behavior, I realized that there were times when I unknowingly did behave in a condescending manner towards my team members. With awareness came improvement, and over the next two years things became better (Projection).
The third is to listen more than we talk. As the roles become more important, time becomes a rare commodity and all of us want to achieve them most within the time available. In the pressure of getting things done at a fast pace, listening to others view and thoughts takes a back seat. This prevents us from getting feedback about our behavior as well as getting ideas from others. The people who we are interacting with are likely to perceive us as dominating and authoritarian (Interaction).
The fourth is showcasing our achievements. A lot of us believe that our work will be recognized and rewarded, but it is only going to happen if someone notices that good work. In this time of limited attention span, it is important to showcase what you have done through appropriate channels and taking credit where it is due (Promotion).
Perception is reality for the person who is experiencing your behavior. In an ideal situation, the there should be a minimum gap between your intentions and other’s perception. It requires self awareness, reflection and a lot of hard work to reduce this gap.
So to summarize, the four steps to manage Perceptions are
1. Introspection (what were your actions?) 2. Projection (what was your body language) 3. Interaction (did you listen enough) 4. Promotion (did you showcase your achievements enough?).
Did you come across any other interesting method, or any other creative approach of managing perceptions? Do share it here for everyone’s benefit !!
Rajiv is the principal consultant at R Square Consulting. Rajiv can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for any query, discussion or professional requirements.
About R Square consulting : R Square consulting provides end to end services in the field of building leadership and managerial capability to include leadership development interventions based on a holistic blend of exploration, reflection, action learning and coaching, assessment centers and various Organizational development interventions.
We are a HR consulting firm providing customised and holistic HR interventions for developing the human capital of an organization through:
Assessment and Development Centers
Organizational Development Interventions
Leadership and managerial development
Flexi HR support for SME