No matter how clear you think you are as a leader, people don’t always perceive you the way you intend to be perceived. Great leaders learn to manage perceptions.
There are three filters that the audience uses when listening to leaders: trust, power, and ego. In my previous post I discussed the trust filer. Let’s consider the power and ego filters.
The Power Filter
Power changes the way we see other people, especially when there’s a power differential.
When leaders speak, they must be mindful of how their power influences their message. Failing to address this issue leaves room for perceivers to fill in the blanks. Great communicators are always cognizant of this filter and respectfully enlist their followers’ engagement.
The Ego Filter
The ego lens has one goal: to protect and enhance the perceiver’s self-esteem. Perceivers will always protect their self-esteem, including their decision to receive or reject a leader’s message. Smart leaders address their audience members’ interests and benefits.
If you want to be understood as a leader, first try to improve your ability to understand others. Identify your ingrained assumptions, biases and filters so you can manage them more effectively.
Social psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson in No One Understands You and What to Do About It (Harvard Business Review Press, 2015) suggests the following strategies:
- Take your time. Always remember that your first impression may be dead wrong. There are always other possible interpretations of someone’s behavior.
- Commit to being fair. We sometimes forget to be fair when we judge someone. The more you consciously implement fairness, the more accurate your perceptions will be.
- Beware of the confirmation bias. Once you form an impression, you’ll seek evidence to confirm it. You’ll ignore other behaviors, even (and perhaps especially) if they contradict your impressions. Have the courage to confront your biases and accept reality.
If there’s a huge gap between your intended message and how others hear it, you’ll need to closely examine your communication style and substance. Consider working with a trusted mentor or professional coach to analyze how you come across to others.