Do you have a perception problem?

Yesterday, I attended a program at Central Exchange on Personal Branding. Kim Yates shared her applied principles from the iconic consumer brands she has worked on to our personal brands. She spoke about the importance of understanding how others see us and whether it is aligned with not only how we see ourselves but what we want for our lives.

A conversation after the event prompted me to dig a little about perceptions. Another participant asked Kim (and me, by proximity) how to step away from the perception others have had of her for a long time. She said she wants to loosen up in this new career phase, but some people who have known her a long time still rely on her old formal ways.

Here are my questions: How do other’s impressions of us impact us? How do our impressions of others impact our behaviors? How do our perceptions of ourselves impact our performance?

If anyone reading this has a perception problem, what I learned and pondered might help you too.

The psychology gurus are pretty set on the definition of perception: it is the process by which we translate our environment into our view of the world. Of course, our view affects our behaviors and behaviors lead to success or failure with work and people.

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Take a look at the photo. How old is the woman you see?

The way you see the woman will impact how you treat her, if she were a real person in front of you. Or, perhaps you see something else entirely?

 A colleague told me a story recently. The story was about selling shoes in India. As the story goes, an Indian leader wanted to set up a shoe business in a specific region, so he sent an ambassador there to do some recon work. The elder ambassador spent little time in the region and told the leader that selling shoes in that region would be a waste of time because the people don’t even wear shoes.

 In the meantime, an enterprising young man met the leader. The young man was eager to prove himself worthy of a position with the leader, so he offered to go to the same region to assess the shoe business potential. He spent time in the region, interacted with the people, noted their interests and needs. When he returned to the leader, he was excited about the potential shoe business. There was great potential because the people don’t wear shoes! Turns out, the young man was right and the shoe business prospered.

Perception affects behavior, and behavior affects success with work and people.

Heighten your awareness of these three common perception issues to ensure you see things as they are and act accordingly.

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1) Self-fulfilling prophecy: Believing something is true causes it to come true. The best example I can think of for this is “parking karma.” I believe in such karma and it almost always works for me. When people in the car doubt or make fun of it, it always works. Right when a passenger laughs off my parking prayer (“Hail Mary full of grace, help me find a parking space”), someone pulls out of the front spot. Another common example is when searching for a lost item. It is better to say, “I will remember to print the report” instead of “I hope I don’t forget to print the report.”

I read a statistic a long time ago that said 70%-90% of what we say to ourselves is negative. Pay attention to how you talk to, and about, yourself to see if that number could be taken down a notch or two. (Here is an article with more ways to stop the negative self-talk.)

2) Self-sabotage: Self-sabotage goes deeper than self-talk. Sometimes people procrastinate or do mediocre work as a way to sabotage themselves. A technique that helps self-sabotagers is Stop-Challenge-Focus. (SOURCE: Turn Self-Sabotage Into Success By Geoffrey James on

When you avoid taking an action that would help you reach your goals, use the three steps:

  1. STOP. Identify the belief that's causing you to feel emotions that aren't helping you succeed.

  2. CHALLENGE. Question the validity of that belief and find reasons why it's not really true or not true in this case.

  3. FOCUS. Create a specific inner dialog that supports your goals and then take action immediately.

3) Fundamental attribution error: This is when we give positive explanations for our results and negative ones for others. For example, I got the “A” on the exam because I studied hard, while Joey got the “A” because he was lucky. At work, this might relate to positions, promotions, evaluations, or project assignments. A flawed sense of oneself leads to career stagnation or failure. It is difficult for others to give feedback when our vision of ourselves differs from how others view us, so watch for it yourself.

One of the great philosophers of our day, Stephen Colbert summed this issue up nicely, “It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that's not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything.”

Whether we are with friends, colleagues, or customers, perception is everything. Remember, that includes your perception of others and of yourself, not just their perception of you.