Perception Is Not Reality

In my not-so-distant past I heard the phrase “Perception is reality.” When I heard it, I couldn’t help but laugh because it sounded so passé. Who talks like that – let alone thinks that way?

I’ve always been a big believer in meritocracy, and this phrase undermines that completely. So, let’s dissect this statement, and see why so many people and businesses apply this to their daily lives and organizations. For the purpose of this entry, we’ll use these definitions:

Perception : a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression.

Reality : the world or the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.

Before we dive in on this corporate catch-phrase … What’s the biggest driver for operating a cohesive, trusting team? Is it the compensation package? Medical and dental benefits? Or, is it fringe benefits – you know, the free soda, candy, crackers, cookies and stuff in the pantry? I think it’s transparency. Transparency builds trust and lasting relationships in the office. It’s not really rocket science – you just have to be forthcoming and honest with those that are around you for 8 hours a day.

Now, transparency is a funny word in Corporate America. You’ll hear the C-level folks spit out this word time and time again – usually at all hands and town hall meetings. They want you to know that they are being upfront and honest with you. But, you wouldn’t know that unless they TOLD you they were. Is that how that transparency thing is supposed to work? I don’t think so.

Transparency, to me, is the ability for all team members – regardless of level or role – to be able to express their thoughts, feelings, ideas and the like freely and without fear. It’s a manager who shares the hurdles, road blocks, successes and failures with their team. Now, they don’t share all of this because they want to gossip. Not because they want to “trade secrets” around a conference room table. They share these things in order for everyone to be able to do their jobs better.

I think I’ve mentioned it here before, but we’ll recap for everyone’s sake … but it takes a very special (and by special, I mean simple) formula to build a great team – a team that is open to transparency, agility, flexibility, and reliance on one another. The coach of the 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team, Herb Brooks, said it best:

“I’m not looking for the best players, Craig. I’m looking for the right ones.”

I just made a recruiter’s head explode, didn’t I? ……. What do you mean not the BEST ones? How can we succeed as a company if we don’t have the VERY BEST people? Well, I hate to break it to you, but wins can’t be had in Corporate America by an individual. Wins, especially big wins, are the fruits of a team’s labors.

When you have a group of “superstars” each one of them is going to perform to the best of their ability, in order for themselves to shine. But, each and every person – regardless of superstar status, has greatness inside of them. What happens when you get a group of people together that have a lot of different strengths – some they may not have even known about? Combine the RIGHT people with transparency and encouragement and they will achieve collective greatness far beyond any individual superstar.

So how does all of this fit in to perception being a reality? Well, it’s funny you should ask… I’ve got an idea.

Transparent, dedicated, and motivated teams of the right people don’t need to interpret a situation. They should know the truth of the situation, and if they don’t, the environment around them should foster the open communication needed for them to know the truth of the situation. It’s really that simple. Truth becomes reality … because in reality, the truth is always true and unadulterated. Perception rarely is. Truth also doesn’t lend itself to personal biases, ideals and agendas. Perception thrives in those things.

One may be asking at this point, why this is such a big problem in companies. I can’t imagine that the “perception is reality” idea came only into my life. The problem is that transparency is one of those catch phrases, a buzz word, to make you feel warm and fuzzy while someone is talking to you. Pro tip: If someone has to tell you that they are being transparent with you – chances are that they aren’t. In fact, chances are, they’re far more opaque than translucent. You see and hear solely what they want you to.

I know that I’ve asked myself numerous times, how this idea of “perception is reality” perpetuates itself. I’ve really only been able to come to one conclusion – management. All levels of management – team managers all the way up through the C-level folks. Chances are, some (if not all) have been told that they can’t share this or that. They can’t tell their teams how they feel. They can’t open the blinds, take off the blinders, and allow people to see the truth. It’s scary to think about, isn’t it?

As I continue in my career, I’ve been a huge proponent of transparency (to my own detriment) and reality. Perception is BS. If you don’t know – ask. Don’t just assume. You know what they say about that. 😉

I challenge you this – as you go into the world, be transparent, bluntly honest and forthcoming, and ask questions. Can you imagine how much more we’d get done if we all did that? Office politics wouldn’t consume 6 hours of our day. How’s that for a win?