You know the saying, perception is reality. If you’ve ever railed against it, you have likely physically harmed your steering wheel by beating it so hard (and then felt guilty about it and actually apologized to the car. C’mon, you know you did. If not, you’re a cold, hard-hearted person, ha ha.)
We try to rework it, to combat these “mis-perceptions” with facts and truth, but never seem to get through. We try to explain the reality, but it only seems to increase the chasm of understanding and deepen the other person’s original perception, leaving us wondering what planet the other person lives on.
Seth Godin recently shared a blog post about how we all categorize, showing readers how despite often choosing to not be labeled that very approach works against us. While the post was targeted to businesses and suggesting that we should be a part in defining how we are categorized, but as the day went on I began to understand how pervasive this is.
Of course we categorize, we have to. It’s how we learn to sympathize and identify with what we are learning, hearing and experiencing. It’s how we see a smily face in a car ad. Did we forget what we all learned in school? Remember learning early in our school days about personification? I’ll give you a minute to think back.
So after reading Seth Godin’s post, what I really began to understand was the complexity of these categorical assignments. Despite the constant news cycles, the pop culture explosion, and the never ending stream of communications, our experiences could not be more different. Our ability to organize our categories are no better than organizing our junk drawers.
We get tripped up because we think people understand things the same way we do. No one does. Each person’s perception is based on the sum of all their experiences, outlooks and persona. To get our point across we therefore not only have to be clear, but we have to be simple and direct.
When Someone’s Perception Kicks Your Reality
A hiring manager and a candidate believe they are speaking the same language. The candidate has worked in small companies for over a decade, which have been challenged significantly and violently by the economic downturn of the past decade plus. The hiring manager says he understands, because he believes he also works in a small company and has seen some of the challenges in the way of hiring and wage freezes over the years.
These two are not even speaking the same language. The candidate has been working for companies of about 5-25 people. The hiring manager downsized a decade ago from a Fortune 500 company of over half a million employees across the globe to a Fortune 100 company of 250 people. He doesn’t know about mass layoffs, closing or selling of companies resulting in job loss. He sees a candidate who job hops, or is hiding something ominous and is not wiling to take the chance.
His perception is based on his reality. He simply has no way to assign the categorization differently because he had never faced the experiences of the candidates.
It is important to note though, that his label, his characterization is not the candidate’s reality. But she can only wish him well, and be both happy and sad for him that he has never experienced the level of risk she has.
Perception Isn’t Really Reality
Take again for instance the strange blogger who thinks everyone not only beats their steering wheel out of frustration, but also feels some degree of soul crushing guilt at hurting the feelings of an automobile by taking frustrations out on the innocent car.
Her perception is that everyone does it, and those who say otherwise are either lying or cold, hard-hearted people. You won’t convince her otherwise. But does it matter?
The point is, perception is reality, but only to the person doing the perceiving. It becomes your reality only in how you are perceived. It does not change who you are or what your reality is.
So if you want to be perceived closer to your reality, you must be clear, concise, simple and direct. And you must realize that there are only a handful of universal truths that most relate to similarly.
Now go apologize to your car, and pump a little premium gas on the next fill up to make up for it.