As a leader, how skilled are you with perception management? Is what you say the same as what people hear? Even at the highest levels of leadership, humans have a surprisingly difficult time communicating their intentions well. Most of us don’t do a very good job of managing perceptions of the very people we need to influence.

“You can influence people’s perceptions of you by playing to their needs. Once you understand how to make other people feel comfortable with you, you’ve won their approval.” —Corporate marketing consultant Camille Lavington, You’ve Only Got Three Seconds (Main Street Books, 1998)

Communicating and managing perceptions remain significant challenges. Words may be misinterpreted, misquoted and/or taken out of context. But leaders cannot succeed without consistently and accurately telegraphing their thoughts and intentions. If you want to shape others’ perceptions, you must take control of the messages you send.

Major problems occur when listeners distort your words to fit their existing views. Their prevailing agendas and beliefs may prevent them from liking, trusting or even noticing you.

I know this workplace dynamic is seldom logical or fair. In fact, it’s often biased, incomplete, unconscious, inflexible and largely automatic. I hear this from the executives I work with. It’s a big challenge for all leaders.

Think of your last verbal workplace exchange. You probably thought you explained yourself well and that your listeners understood you. Here’s the unvarnished truth: You—and they—likely didn’t. How, then, can we ensure that people hear what we say?

The Perception Process

Perceivers (your audience) are prone to perceptual errors governed by rules and biases we can identify and anticipate. Understanding this predisposition allows us to unlock the perception puzzle. As leaders, we can alter our words and actions to send desired signals.

In Phase 1 of the perception process, listeners experience a flurry of brain activity as they try to understand what you’re saying. They’re also sizing you up, forming opinions of you and your message, comparing you to others, and remembering similar situations and opinions.

Most of what happens in perceivers’ minds is automatic, unconscious, and it is riddled with bias.

In Phase 2, perceivers use the part of the brain concerned with logic and reason. This is a much more effortful thinking process, one that requires energy. Consequently, they avoid it to conserve brain resources.

More often than not, Phase 2 is never activated. People form opinions of you and your message with Phase 1 assumptions—and then they move on.

Most leaders are unaware of these basic brain behaviors, so they never take the time needed to push their listeners past quick, stereotypical judgments.

What do you think?  As a leader, how adept are you at communicating your true intentions and managing perceptions? I’d love to hear from you. You can call me at 561-582-6060, let’s talk. And as always, I can be reached here or on LinkedIn.

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