Manage perceptions in the workplace

It’s been said that perception is reality. In the workplace, perceptions that aren’t managed become rumors, then gossip and then backbiting, which leads to destruction. Unmanaged perceptions become a reality that wasn’t intended.

Since most people are uncomfortable providing direct feedback, we often don’t know how we’re perceived. That makes our reputation — how others perceive us — an asset or detriment. We can manage perceptions, though, by asking questions and receiving feedback.

Most leaders typically don’t receive feedback very often. When they do receive feedback, it’s not always in the most constructive manner. However, effective feedback provides information that lets us know how we’re doing.

Seek out people who have opportunities to observe your behavior, an interest in your effectiveness and can speak to you directly and honestly.  Once you’ve received this feedback, take time to reflect and evaluate what you’ve heard. The benefit of receiving feedback is a better understanding of strengths and weaknesses.  The Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu said: “Knowing others is wisdom. Knowing yourself is enlightenment.”

It’s possible to actively manage the perceptions others have of you.  I recently read a great example of perception management in a blog called Psychotic Resumes:

“Two guys take out their dates. Guy No. 1 takes his date to a fun dinner, picked up the tab and followed up with a round of bumper carts and then on to a bar to dance.  Guy No. 2 takes his date straight to the bar, has to call a cab and pukes on his date’s shoes after dancing in the street and hip-bumping random hookers. Which guy was managing his perceptions better? By all counts, Guy No. 1 did a better job.

But this demonstrates the fundamental flaw in communications: People hear and see whatever is important to them. Some girls like projects — fixer-upper types. So Guy No. 2 isn’t necessarily out of the running just because in comparison to Guy No 2, Guy No. 1 looks like a freaking knight in white armor.”

You must know yourself and consider your audience.

Darla Fortner
Darla Fortner

I recently spoke with Shari Harley, principal of the Harley Group International, a Denver-based training and consulting firm. Harley also wrote the book “Where Did My Customers Go? Manage Reputations and Build Relationships That Last.”

Harley said more information equals more power. And we should never be surprised by others’ reactions, whether we’re passed over for a promotion or sought out as an expert. Harley also suggested gathering feedback and eliminating behaviors that diminish your professional reputation.

Those interested in perception management as well as other subjects related to human resource management should attend the Western Colorado Human Resource Association fall conference set for Oct. 20 in Grand Junction.

Darla Fortner, a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources, is human resources manager of Enstrom Candies in Grand Junction. She also serves as director of communications, marketing and public relations for the Western Colorado Human Resource Association.