Managing perceptions: Are you a diamond or a piece of coal?

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In my last blog I had talked about the importance of perception in our professional lives. I had also reiterated the fact that for most of us, perception is reality and how people perceive us has nothing to do with the truth.
Perception decides value…. To elaborate, water is necessary for life and gold is not, however, in our perception gold is more important and therefore we put a higher value to it. Although scarcity of gold relative to water may be one of the reasons for its higher value in our minds, gold by itself is of very limited use in our daily life.
One of the themes which I touched upon in the last blog was that our reality is shaped by our own personal lens of experiences and hence in case we want to ensure that others perceive us a good leader/team member/peer , then we need to understand the different lenses through which people look at our actions and figure out how we can change the color of that lens. I have experienced that once we have formed a perception about someone (intentions of the other person, bias against us, lack of trust in a leader or team member) we tend to look at evidences to reinforce and support our perception while at the same time disregarding all the evidences which do not support our perception.
Today, I would like to focus on the two means of reducing the gap between what we intend and how people perceive us. I had mentioned both of these very briefly in my last blog. These two methods are interaction and promotion. Both are interconnected in way that they include a leader communicating with multiple stakeholders.
Whether you are focused on upward perception management (with your manager), downwards (with your team) or sideways (with your peers and external parties/customers) interaction and promotion are key to ensuring that relevant stakeholders perceive you and your intentions positively.
I had briefly covered both of these methods of managing perceptions, however, I feel that a more detailed discussion on these two methods is required. Listening to others is essential to make them feel valued as well as get feedback on own ideas, however, there is more to Interaction than just listening. Giving out own ideas is equally important although one must be mindful that we permit equal opportunity to the others in the interaction to give their views. The critical aspect according to me is that we must use this interaction to provide reasons for our actions and decisions and be prepared to listen to alternative views, debate and if required change our decisions if adequate reasons to do so are provided through the interaction. As leaders, it is also important to increase the number of such formal and informal interactions so that we are able to build a relationship of trust and understanding with most of the relevant stakeholders. Most organizations incorporate a number of such formal and informal ways of communication, the key is how these are utilized to reduce the gap between how people perceive us.
The second aspect of Promotion, i.e. showcasing our achievements to the important stakeholders is something with which most of us struggle. Acocording t me there are two reasons for it, one is due to the eastern cultural which is less oriented to individual and more towards group and the second is our inherent reluctance towards self promotion. There is a fine line between being a loud mouth or a bragger and ensuring that our achievements are recognized and due credit is given to us. I am reminded of a client who during a coaching session talked only about how he was perceived to be not doing enough in his role by his CEO. He was in a senior delivery role and during the conversation, we found out that he was doing whatever was the required of the role and he was also acting on any suggestion which was given by his CEO. All the metrics were in green and all the customers were satisfied with the service provided, however, in every conversation, the CEO indicated to him that he was not doing enough. This was creating a lot of stress and dissatisfaction in him due to which he was becoming very demotivated. During that and the subsequent coaching session he realized that although he was doing more than what was required of the role, he was not showcasing the results of his efforts to the CEO and sales head. With this insight he decided to set up a structured weekly briefing for the CEO and the sales head. During this briefing, he showcased all the metrics, the improvement over the last quarter as well as over the same period in the previous year. He also circulated a deck showcasing these metrics as well as significant achievements as well as customer recognition to all the direct reports of the CEO. During the briefing, he also provided updates on the implementation of all the suggestions given by the CEO. In a later session he shared that things had improved a lot in the two months in which he set up this process.
Perceptions are built over time and they also take time to change. The key to forming and changing perceptions is repetition. The desired behavior and actions need to be repeated a number of times for people to form and change already formed perceptions.
As I had mentioned in the beginning of this blog, the value which people give is based on their perception. Whether you are perceived as a diamond or a piece of coal depends on your actions, your behaviors as well as your ability to interact with and showcase yourself to the relevant stakeholders.
I would invite you to contribute to everyone’s learning by sharing your experiences of managing perceptions.
Rajiv is the principal consultant at R Square Consulting. Rajiv can be reached at rajiv@rquareconsult.in 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:
Executive Coaching
Assessment and Development Centers
Organizational Development Interventions
Leadership and managerial development
Flexi HR support for SME
Pune : Mumbai : Dubai : Dehra Dun

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