Reality Check: The Ups and Downs of Perception

Do you make your decisions and choose your actions based on facts and evidence? While it’s a worthwhile aspiration, it is easier said than done because along with those objective facts, we also have our perceptions.

What we perceive about ourselves and others can have a huge impact on our happiness, our success, and how we choose to interact.

Diane is happy and excited in her new job, where she is being told that she is a quick learner and is meeting or even exceeding all expectations. Through that positive feedback, Diane perceives that she is accepted, appreciated, and making great progress.

Then one day at a local restaurant, Diane heard what she thought was her name mentioned in a conversation in a nearby booth. It sounded like a couple of her coworkers, giggling and whispering. Even though she knows better, Diane strained her ears to eavesdrop. What did she hear?

Perception 1

Although she couldn’t hear very clearly, Diane thought that she heard the people in the booth joking about the new girl in the company. That must be her!

Diane was devastated.

Suddenly, she isn’t sure that she believes the positive feedback that she has been receiving. Was it all a lie? Had there been an underlying sarcasm in that encouragement?

Back at work, Diane becomes super-sensitive to anything she hears that could be interpreted negatively. She begins to holds back—instead of speaking up and offering her ideas with enthusiasm, she waits for others to express opinions and then agrees with the crowd.

Her employer seems disappointed with this change in her normally outgoing, eager personality. The positive encouragement dwindles, the work becomes less fun. Ultimately, Diane leaves.

Perception 2

Although she couldn’t hear very clearly, Diane thought that she heard the people in the booth admiring the new girl in the company. That must be her!

Diane was ecstatic.

Back at work, Diane smiles warmly at everyone she sees. When asked to take on extra duties, she is happy to oblige. When she is given suggestions to improve her work, she is sure to follow through. Perceiving that she is looked on positively, she is at ease with offering creative, unusual solutions.

Diane rapidly becomes the go-to person for innovation. The encouragement increases, the work becomes even more fun, and ultimately, Diane thrives and progresses.

In these two scenarios, Diane’s subsequent actions were a response to what she thought she had heard. Those actions contributed to how her employer perceived her, and ultimately to her success or lack of success in the business.

Yet the reality is that Diane didn’t know what those folks in the next booth were saying, or if their comments were even about her.

It’s helpful to remain mindful of the power of our perceptions. Remember that they don’t necessarily reflect reality!

How might Diane have responded more effectively to that negative perception scenario? It is she who chooses her actions. Forge on, do what she knows to be right and appropriate despite what others think (or what she thinks they think.)

Have you ever found yourself stuck with a negative, unhelpful perception? What do you do?

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