Working with successful leaders over the years I’ve found the better a leader is at standing in another’s reality the better that leader is at managing perceptions. From a strengths perspective, if we have context for understanding the ‘common sense perceptions’ of others it’s easier to stand in another’s reality. The interplay of our individual strengths creates our individualized ‘common sense’. When we take the time to develop strengths intelligence we expand our understanding of others and ourselves. This equips us to make choices in how we communicate to and with others.
As a leader, how do you manage perceptions of yourself? How do people experience you? Is what you say congruent with what people hear? No matter how clear you think you are as a leader, people do not always perceive you or what you have communicated in the way you intend. Sharing your strengths and weaknesses is one of the ways to manage your messages.
Everyone has perception biases unless it is managed through some common understanding of each other, i.e. Strength Based teams. Having common ground as a team offers you a common language and context to understand one another.
In leadership communications, if you do not tell people what they need to know in a context they can understand, their brains naturally fill in the blanks, creating a story or expectation that may or may not be accurate. I’ve seen this happen with the leaders I coach when team member’s individual strengths are not understood.
When we develop strengths intelligence we expand our understanding of others and ourselves. Click To Tweet
Perceivers rely on rules of thumb so their brains do not have to work too hard:
When people look at you, they see what they are expecting to see. They hear what they are expecting to hear. They seek (and will probably find) evidence that matches their expectations.
First impressions strongly influence how we interpret and remember information. People resist changing opinions once they are formed.
Most people are biased, yet deny being so. We are subconsciously influenced by stereotypical beliefs about gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, professions, socioeconomic classes and education. We categorize people on various dimensions, including facial features – It is human nature to do so. We cannot turn off this feature, but we can become conscious of it and take necessary actions to mitigate the effects.
We tend to assume that people who possess one positive quality also have many others. For example, we often judge a good-looking person to be smart and charming, even without evidence.
We assume other people think and feel exactly the way we do. We erroneously believe our bad habits are universal and normal. We also tend to believe that we have better values and are generally more honest, kind and capable than others (the false-uniqueness fallacy).
Is It Possible to Manage Others’ Biases?
You never start with a blank slate when meeting new people. Their brains are rapidly filling in details about you, even if you have never met them before.
The more you consider listeners’ nuisances – likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, the better you can anticipate how they need information framed and what is authentic. Work toward being fully engaged and present with them. Be present and responsive to them in order to benefit from positive stereotypes and halo effects.
While humans are wired to make assumptions based on first impressions, we are also capable of correcting those assumptions/impressions—when we have the information and tools to do so.
The more you can become aware of the biases and assumptions going on in listeners’ minds, the more you can make your intentions and expectations explicit. The more vulnerable and transparent you are the better you will be at managing perceptions.