Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Changing Perceptions


I've been working with high potential future leaders for a few years and a subject that keeps coming up is behavioural change.

The first thing to reassure them of is that they don't have to change their behaviour - they already have too many behavioural choices, that's not the issue, the issue is their awareness of context. All they have to do is change their focus. When their focus changes, their perception changes, their decisions change and their behaviour changes.



However, that's all very well and good, and they'll get better results, with less time and less stress, within a limited area of influence; their direct contacts, friends and family. One client said to me this morning that even his relationship with his wife has improved and his colleagues want to know what drugs he's taking that have made him so much easier to work with.

The bigger challenge, from a long term career perspective, is how to manage the perceptions that others have.

Outside of your direct circle of influence are people who you don't have daily contact with, but who influence decisions which affect your future. These people form opinions on you, based on your behaviour and, specifically, how your behaviour affects them. The more strongly they feel about the impact of your behaviour, the more strongly they will defend their opinion of you.

Here's the problem. When those opinions are well founded, they're hard to change, and that limits your career growth. Perhaps you have been disengaged, or disruptive, or confrontational in meetings. As a result, even if you were factually correct, no-one cares. As I learnt on my very first training course in 1985, no-one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.

When the subject of your promotion comes up for discussion, these influential people will raise their objections, and you will be passed over again, and there is nothing that you can do about it.

Or is there?

When you're making changes that affect not only yourself but also others, you have to recognise that you not simply operating within a system - you are an intrinsic part of that system. Therefore, any changes that you make affect you, and they affect others too, and you hardly ever take that into consideration.

When another person has an opinion of you, that opinion is well-founded, at least in their eyes, and their opinion becomes the filter through which they will perceive everything that you do. If someone thinks you're an idiot, or you're lazy, or you're confrontational, or opinionated, or aggressive, that's the lens through which they interpret everything that you do. And because they are outside of your daily contact network, you have very limited opportunities to change that.

What you need to do is draw their attention to the changes you're making, and engage them in that process. After all, they are engaged in your career choices, and you therefore want them to use that influence in a different way.

Getting someone to notice and engage with the changes you're making is easy, there are just four simple steps to follow. Having said that, you must be consistent, if you contradict the changes you've committed to, you will do even more harm to your reputation.

Here are those four simple steps:

Acknowledge their experience of you
Acknowledge the impact of your behaviour
Commit to change
Ask for their help

And now, a little more detail:

Acknowledge their experience of you

Don't justify, argue or defend. They have an opinion, you don't like it, you shouldn't have done the things to make them form it. "I know that you think that I am X". No edge, no angle, just acknowledgement of a fact.

Acknowledge the impact of your behaviour

Don't justify, argue or defend. Their opinion is based on how they feel. Maybe you caused problems, or embarrassed them, or made them feel disrespected. Move on. "I know that X had an impact on you, I know that I caused you Y."

Commit to change

"I am making a real effort to change this, because I know it's important for me and the people I work with."

Ask for their help

"And I would like your help to do this."

Of course, all of this has to be honest and consistent. You have to actually be committed to the process of change, and you have to recognise that you don't live on an island; you are connected to the people around you, and you influence each other. At the same time, you can't expect other people to notice when you change something, they have their own priorities to worry about. So if you want to make a change really work for you and the people who are important to you, get their help.


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