I was a guest on a podcast the other day, promoting my new book, Can We Talk? Seven Principles for Managing Difficult Conversations at Work, when I was asked if I thought it was possible for someone to change people’s perception of them.
Without hesitation, I said, “Yes!”
I tell my coaching clients all that time that leadership is all about perception. You may think you’re a fantastic leader, but if no one agrees, your opinion doesn’t matter.
Changing perception is hard—I mean really hard. However, you can change people’s perception of you. I know this because most of the coaching work I do with executives helps them change behaviors while changing their stakeholders’ perceptions.
It takes tremendous discipline for someone to successfully alter the way people view them as well as a keen desire to do so.
Patience is also required, as it can take months—sometimes even a year to change perception.
That’s because for some, a shift in behavior is temporary. We all know people who say they’re going to alter a particular behavior—like smoking. They start off strong, and everyone is proud of them. Three months later, we see them sneaking out the back door to grab a smoke. The next time they tell us they’re going to quit smoking, we say to ourselves, “Yeah, right!”
People believe what they see, hear, and feel.
To change perception, you must sustain your new behaviors. Only then will people believe that your word is as good as your actions.
People judge us all the time based on their understanding, which is why it’s critical to be aware of how people perceive you and manage perceptions. Individuals often have different perceptions of the same reality.
It’s not uncommon for one party to think they’re right and that the other person is wrong. Or that they’re not the problem—the other person is.
We have different perceptions about the same situation because we have different life experiences that shape how we see things.
We may also not have access to the same information. This helps to explain why, when faced with a difficult conversation, people often jump to conclusions.
We think we know what the other person will say, based on what we would say, so we don’t listen very carefully. Instead, we’re busy preparing our response.
Or we immediately assume bad intent because of a similar incident that occurred with someone else.
When this happens, the conversation quickly goes off the rails, and it’s hard for both parties to get back on track.
What Others See
People are continually evaluating us based on our behavior. They’re asking themselves questions like:
“Is this person credible?”
“Are they telling me the truth or what they think I want to hear?”
“Can I trust them?”
How one answers these questions is based on how they view the person they’re speaking with and their experience in similar situations. See why it’s so hard to ignore perception?
However, what if we took this one step further, before entering a demanding work conversation, and asked ourselves similar questions from a different perspective?
Try reframing the questions and instead asking yourself:
“How credible am I coming across to this other person?”
“Have I given them any reason to doubt I’m being completely transparent?”
“Have I given this person cause not to trust me?”
Don’t worry if you don’t know the answers to all these questions. You may decide to explore this further, should you find you hit a dead end when addressing a high-stakes situation.
If you’re at all curious as to how you’re being perceived, consider hiring someone to conduct a 360-assessment with your subordinates, boss, and peers. This process can be extremely valuable and will enable you to begin working on making changes that will help you begin the journey of changing perception.
Your Assignment: This week’s assignment is two-fold.
First, engage someone to conduct a 360-assessment on your behalf. Pay particular attention to anything that comes up in your 360, that could be getting in the way of your success.
If the 360 reveals that something is getting in your way, and you’re ready to change your behavior, consider hiring a coach. If you’re not ready to make any changes, don’t go any further. Research has shown that people who are “all in” are more likely to do the work and therefore get better results – which is our goal.
If you’ve got questions about changing perception, 360’s, and coaching, feel free to schedule a call with me.
© Matuson Consulting, 2021.