Creating Better Communications When “Reality” Is Cloudy

By Chowning Johnson on August 29th, 2017

Perception both shapes and is shaped by our most significant and impactful life experiences. But it also influences day-to-day interactions with others and the world—something that could not be more true in communications as we look to engage different stakeholders internally and externally.

Take for example, a fussy toddler on an airplane. Some will view the situation as frustrating and a nuisance that they shouldn’t have to deal with, even perhaps blaming the parent for his/her lack of parenting skills. Others may reminisce about when their child was that age, feel endeared and compassionate for the parent, even try to help distract the child. The point is that each person’s perception of the same situation yields different feelings, takeaways and reactions that are shaped by their past experiences, beliefs and numerous other inputs.

It begs of the questions of where is reality, who’s take on it is correct, how do we find a common understanding when no one’s vantage is likely the full truth?

When it comes to business, the construct of perception versus reality is critical. Leading an account management department entrenched in a services-oriented business, the concepts of perception and reality reign supreme in every facet of the work we do, from pitching new business and engaging with clients to hiring new staff members and managing and mentoring colleagues.

In business we see it play out every day:

  • Address sentiments. Take, for example, a healthcare organization in crisis because of a data breach. The group employed all the right security protocols, but hackers or a rogue employee prevailed. For the patients impacted and the general community, the “reality” is their healthcare provider didn’t protect them. They don’t care how it happened. An erosion of trust occurs and fighting back with “reality” or the facts only comes across as combative. Organizations who instead lead with openness, authenticity and empathy—connecting to the sentiments and public’s perception—will win out over time and rebuild trust in the organization.
  • Create an experience. Too often we place too much emphasis on our own opinions or what we think audiences want to hear. To effectively engage groups, or even individuals, we sometimes forget to take a step back and live in the target audience’s shoes, to think about what motivates them, to actually ask and listen. At the highest level, we need to create an experience that centers on their reality to cut through everything else and facilitate a dialogue. For example, with a new employee, the manager’s expectations are important, but equally are the employee’s preferences on work style and feedback—a question often  forgotten. Alternatively, with a new client, we apply best practices, but do we remember to ask how they like to communicate and ensure a balance that works for all?
  • Make the most of each person’s perception. The delicacy of internal communications across departments, teams and generations is challenging, especially during times of change, difficulty and even growth. Not only do you have to stay on message at an organizational level, it’s also critical to consider each group’s take on the scenario, what will they perceive, what will they ask, what will they fear. A developer in the product department, events manager and sales professional will each perceive differently. Effective communications, both internally and externally, will account for each stakeholder and their construct of reality. When balanced carefully, these considerations can create a structure and story that will engage, answer questions before they are asked and provide the feeling that everyone’s vantage is valued.

It’s been said before, but acknowledgement is the first step. We can all create better communications, relationships and businesses if this core philosophy and vantage point is present in all we do. We’d love to hear about your organization’s take and how you apply this construct.

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