We’ve all heard that expression, but do we really believe it applies to us?
Imagine yourself walking down a dark street at night and finding yourself face-to-face with a young person dressed in black and covered in chains, tattoos and piercings. Would you cross the street? You actually have no idea if the person is, in reality, a threat or not. You likely won’t wait to find out—your perception has become the reality you choose to believe.
Look at your desk. Does it look like a professional works there? Or does it look like you don’t know what you’re doing, because things are scattered and disorganized? Be honest.
This is where we will immediately justify. “But Rhonda, I have 50,000 things on the go right now! And I clean it up before I leave.”
I know—so do I, and so does everyone else. So tell me, why is that some people can keep their workspace organized throughout the day and some people can’t?
When you have a messy desk, the perception will be that you are disorganized, that things are falling through the cracks and that you can’t handle your workload. People will tend to micro-manage you because they don’t have confidence in your organizational skills.
An empty desk is not the perception you want either, because it makes it look like you have nothing to do. People will assume you do nothing, and perhaps even that you aren’t the right person for them to work with if no one else works with you. I promise you they won’t assume you are uber-organized. They’ll assume there’s a reason you have nothing to do.
Find the happy middle ground. You want to look busy (especially if you are) but you want to look like you can manage the volume of work as well.
Overtime is another example where perception is reality. Does working copious amounts of overtime make you look like a keener, or does it look like you can’t keep up with the volume? Does leaving work every day exactly on time send the message you think it should send (especially if everyone else is working overtime)?
Don’t misunderstand me; I hope you don’t work one minute of overtime. But the reality is that in many organizations it’s the culture to put in overtime, and by leaving on time you may be displaying a lack of commitment to your company; (their perception, not your reality). Know what the norm is at your company, and take a look at your actions through the eyes of a co-worker who doesn’t know your justifications. It isn’t about right or wrong. It’s about perception.
Perception affects your start time the same way it affects your end time. A friend of mine has a sleep disorder. She can’t always get up in time to get to work at the same time as everyone else. It’s so bad that she has a flexible arrangement with her boss and HR. If she starts at 9 a.m., she works until 5 p.m. If she can’t get into the office until 10 a.m, she works until 6 p.m.
That’s all fine, except that her co-workers didn’t know about the disorder or that she’d made a special arrangement with the boss. They perceived her to be young and immature and incapable of starting work on time. They didn’t see what time she worked until when she got in to the office late; they just assumed she went home the same time they did. And they treated her accordingly, which was completely wrong and unfair. Until she told them about her situation, that thought hadn’t occurred to any of them. And a lot of them had been resenting her for being a “slacker.”
You don’t have to explain everything to your co-workers. But you do have to know when their perception is affecting their impression of you, and the way they are treating (and talking about) you.
Think about these statements, and ask yourself if you’ve heard any of them recently.
– You’re on vacation again? You get a lot of vacation.
– Quitting time already?
– More new shoes? You must have a money tree at home.
– Sleep in this morning?
– Leaving early? Lucky you!
– Wow, did a tornado just pass through here?
– Look how neat and tidy your desk is. You must have a lot more time than I do.
– Must be nice to always be flying off somewhere fun.
– Right. Another conference (nudge nudge, wink wink).
– Was that a liquid lunch again?
– Will that project be late (again)?
– You’re always on Facebook (Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube). Do you ever get any work done?
Remember, it isn’t about right or wrong. It’s about perception.
Have a look (and listen) to the cues you’re getting from others. Do you care what others think? Do you want them to treat you differently? Then you’ll want to manage their perceptions of you.
I might not care what people think, but I do care about what they say. It’s my reputation at stake. Reputation is perception. Because perception is reality.