How good are you at managing perceptions of you as a leader? How do you come across to other people? Is what you say the same as what people hear? No matter how clear you think you are as a leader, people don’t always perceive you the way you intend to be perceived.
Let’s face it, everyone has perception biases. If you don’t manage perception biases, people will misjudge you. In leadership communications, you need to be clear with your people about what they need to know. If you leave anything ambiguous, they will come to their own, potentially wrong, conclusions. I’ve seen this happen many times with the leaders I coach.
Perceivers rely on mental shortcuts like these so their brains don’t have to work too hard:
- Confirmation Bias. When people look at you, they see what they’re expecting to see. They hear what they’re expecting to hear. They seek, and will probably find, evidence that matches their expectations rather than reality.
- Primacy Effect. First impressions strongly influence how we interpret and remember information. People resist changing opinions once they’re formed.
- Stereotypes. Most people are biased, yet they deny being so. We are unconsciously influenced by stereotypical beliefs about gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, professions, socioeconomic classes, and education. We automatically categorize people based on superficial information, including facial features. It’s human nature. Our brains are wired to quickly sort friend from foe. We cannot turn off this feature, but we can become conscious of it and make necessary modifications as we get new information.
- Halo Effect. We tend to assume that people who possess one positive quality also have many others. For example, we often judge a good-looking person to be smart and charming, even without evidence.
- False-Consensus Effect. We assume other people think and feel exactly the way we do. We erroneously believe our bad habits are universal and normal. We also tend to believe that we have better values and are generally more honest, kind and capable than others (the false-uniqueness fallacy).
Managing Others’ Biases
You never start from scratch when meeting new people. Their brains are rapidly filling in details about you, even if you’ve never met them before.
The more you consider listeners’ likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses, the better you can anticipate what traits they’re projecting onto you. Work on emphasizing your good qualities to benefit from positive stereotypes and halo effects.
While humans are wired to make assumptions based on first impressions, we’re also capable of correcting those impressions as long as we see value in doing so.
The more you can become aware of the biases and assumptions going on in listeners’ minds, the more you can make your intentions explicit and improve your ability to managing perceptions.