We hear it all the time -- at least within the workplace! Perception is reality; mkay! In fact, in psychology, better known as "person perception", this term refers to "the processes by which people think about, appraise, and evaluate other people." In other words, we're all a bit judgy by nature. And based on past experiences, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, social status, emotions, personal agendas–you see where I'm going here–we can be quick to make snap judgments.
Think about the last time you met a new co-worker, friend's boyfriend, maybe even a first date. You immediately began to draw conclusions based on the firmness of their handshake, attire, the way they groomed their hair; each impression having a lasting impact despite knowing very little about the individual. Of course, if you're living in a modern-day rom-com, a la Gabrielle Union, you're likely to win 'em over each and every time. Only, in reality, this typically isn't the case!
So, when can the perceptions we form have a negative impact on our reality? Let's take a stroll down memory lane.
In 2017, I signed my life away and returned to the 9 to 5, after spending the former seven years freelancing. Unlike my counterparts–many 10 years my junior–I entered the tech world sans a degree, very little technical knowledge or business acumen and all the anxiety. To mask both the fear of failure and showing my age, I did what I do best: fake it until you make it, hunty! And boy, oh boy, did I play the part. You know how the saying goes: "I may be ghetto at heart but my customer service voice went to Harvard."
Only, as I became more comfortable in my newfound skin, I received feedback I was giving off the wrong impression.
While I assumed walking tall, speaking with authority (always with a side of compassion), and taking initiative were all covet-worthy characteristics, for some, these qualities made me less approachable–at times even intimidating. As one who prides herself on being rightly-related, this really irked me! So, I sought out feedback–not from friends or close co-workers–but from those I seldom interacted with.
What did I learn? Perception is NOT reality. Yep. I said it. Sure, I have killer resting b*tch face and could channel my inner Disney Princess a bit more. However, in "reality", the root of the matter was, because I carried myself with confidence, set the bar high, pushed others to be their best self, and held them accountable, I was indeed a force to be reckoned with–one to watch. All things I was previously meant to believe were undesirable based on someone else's preferred so-called reality. Now, this isn't to say I don't have things to work on. I'm certainly a work in progress.
This is a simple reminder that, while perception can have a powerful influence on the lens with which we view the world, it's often out of touch with reality.
Do you often find yourself making conclusions based on perception, or worse, often misunderstood? Here's how to manage how others perceive us.
- Eliminate assumptions. No one likes to play the guessing game! Instead, seek validation.
- Ask plenty of questions. Right or wrong, it's important to be respectful of others' perceptions. They may have good reason to feel the way they do. In situations like these, it's best to talk it out, ask plenty of questions, and listen. Chances are they'll be watching to see if you were paying attention.
- Check your own perceptions at the door. Be mindful of the perceptions you yourself create. Do they hold up? Could they use a modification or two?
- Assume positive intent. We're all carrying some sort of load. That said, always assume others are making decisions regarding their actions with the best of intentions.
- Be yourself. Be kind. Be authentic. After all, at the end of the day, you can't win them all!
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