Perception is Reality

“Hey, dude….that bone through your nose just might be holding you back.”

Sorry. It’s the truth.

I always hated the expression that “perception is reality”. It never seemed relevant to me.  It was only shared with me in negative situations at work where I’d end up doing something that wasn’t overtly a screw-up, but due to the “perception” it was a bad thing. So I tucked that information away…for years….and then suddenly, a few weeks ago, it popped up again. But this time, it was me saying it to someone else.

So what is perception and what is reality? And more importantly, why are they related anyway?

Perception is your “internal reality”. It’s what you make of the outside world based on all of the input you receive. It’s what you believe to be true. People with altered inputs have altered internal realities. No one would argue with me if I said that someone who is blind or deaf perceives the world differently than others. And we all have altered inputs. We all hear, see, smell, taste and touch different things. Therefore, we all perceive things differently.

So, what is reality? Quite simply…no one really knows. I’m not going to get into any physics lessons here but if you simply agree that individuals having different perceptions leads to non-standard realities, then you must agree that individual perceptions are the only realities that we should worry about.

And here we are. Everything you say or do has an effect on the reality that others perceive about you. Regardless of your intent, you are held captive to the perceptions of others. And to complicate matters more, my perceptions of you are going to be different than someone else’s due to our different interactions with not only you but the rest of the world.

The lesson is to be aware. Acknowledge that the gap between intent and perception can be great. And that the broader that gap between the two, the more difficult it will be to convince someone to be aligned with you and the real message you are trying convey.

Specifically, what I’m trying to say is:

1) Dress as you want to be perceived. My rule was always to dress for the position you want and not the position you have. I’m all for self-expression. But, that being said, there is a potential price to pay. That tattoo on your face or trendy outfit will cause others to judge you. And depending on your situation, that judgement may be good or bad.

2) Be aware of how you communicate. Whether it’s spoken work, email or IM, your tone, choice of words and even punctuation and capitalization could send a different message than you want.

3) Be flexible in how you act. Be a chameleon. Different people will react to the same situation in different ways so you may need to bend a bit in order to line up with your audience.

4) Be clear. Don’t assume anyone knows more than the information you are giving them at that very moment.

5) Most importantly…read your audience. You might be sharing the most vital information you’ve ever had, but if they perceive meaningless garble, then it’s meaningless garble for them and you might want to adjust your message.

We can’t all agree on reality so just accept it. And then use that knowledge to change the perceptions of others around you in order to create a reality for them that benefits you both.


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