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Perception trumps Intention

Have you ever had someone say, “You know, before I got to know you, I thought you were___________.”?   Put in the words that fit your particular situation.    They may have thought you were a lawyer, and in fact you’re a nurse, or they thought you were a party girl, and you’re not, or they may have even thought you were a snob, when in fact you’re the furthest thing from it.  Based on their initial impressions or perceptions of you, someone thought something about you, that once they had a chance to really get to know you, they found out wasn’t really true.  At the time, did you give some thought as to why they might have thought that about you?  Was it your intention to give that impression?

It’s very interesting to ponder, and often times in our lives we find that these first impressions, or perceptions, can create barriers to communication that can cause problems for us in our personal lives, workplaces, and our communities.   Perception trumps Intention – what do these words mean?  By definition, perception is detecting something by means of the senses, so perception means having a feeling about something, but not necessarily having concrete evidence to support that feeling.  Intention is determination to act in a certain way, or put simply, doing something on purpose.

Now think back for a moment about whether that person’s perception of you was what you intended it to be.  Most likely, it was not.  Why?  Did you talk, dress, or act in a certain way that would lead them to believe the way they did?  Was it because of the words you said or the way in which you said them? Or was it something as simple as body language?   We often give people very distinct impressions of ourselves without ever directly interacting with them.    Have you ever walked in to a store, ready to buy something, but then changed your mind because you didn’t “click” with the salesperson or they gave you an uneasy feeling?   Maybe you didn’t actually leave the store, but you waited to ask your questions or make your purchase until you found another sales associate that you felt more comfortable with.  This is a classic example of perception trumping intention.  Even though the first salesperson may have been more knowledgeable about the subject matter and had great intentions about being friendly and helpful, your perceptions of him moved you to wait to purchase or find someone else to help you.  Could that person have done something to make you perceive him differently?  If so, what would it have been?  Are there times in your life that you have that same effect on people?  What can you do differently in your own life to make sure your intentions are more in line with other peoples’ perceptions? 

By becoming more aware of how others perceive you, you will likely discover some things about yourself that will help you become a better communicator at home, in your workplace, and your community.

“A moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes