Monday, June 10, 2013

Controlling How We Are Perceived

We develop an impression of others pretty quickly, and we are wired to be flexible with the first impression IF we see evidence that we are wrong (“when I first met her, she seemed a little ditzy, but I could see after just one real conversation that she was better versed than I on a lot of subjects”). If evidence indicates we are right (and sometimes, if we just NEED to be right) our impression will develop into something stronger (like an opinion) and we may even “upgrade” its status to a “fact”. My point is that how people perceive us can be controlled.

It is easiest to influence their perceptions at the beginning of a relationship because we are wired to be flexible at first and become more rigid as we find evidence. We even refer to the process as “forming” an opinion. If someone is forming an opinion about us, WE are the source of the evidence. And even if they know something about us from a different source, we provide the evidence that they can use to modify that opinion of us, until their judgment of us is aligned with the evidence they have.

This sounds like an opportunity to “pretend to be someone that you aren’t”, but it isn’t. It is an opportunity to determine behaviors that may be holding you back (or coloring people’s perception of you in an unflattering way) and tailoring them to portray your true feelings and thoughts in a way that they can easily understand them. That is, to be more transparent and accessible, less cryptic.

In short we can present ourselves in a way that promotes productive and beneficial working relationships without being false or fake in any way – just by have the a full understanding of how we actually feel, and how to communicate that to the world. I will make some suggestions as to how excellent communicators and leaders typically feel about relationships and common ways those feelings manifest themselves. You MUST tailor these to suit who you are – you should seldom use someone else’s words to express your own feelings. NOTE - beware self-help advice that offers you “scripts” – if your words don’t align with your feelings and actions, the people you are trying to communicate with will identify you as a fake. Think of the people you have known whose words didn’t align with their actions. How did you feel about them?

My suggestions (from the last newsletter) were as follows:
·         Giving the benefit of the doubt as far as our counterpart’s motives
·         Using inquiry like a journalist would and listening to answers
·         Working actively to prevent defensiveness
·         Being honest and explicit

 I will expand a little on those and give you an overview of a model I named THE SCORE to help you remember the elements.

The objective is to be a person that does not promote defensiveness in others. Defensiveness is the primary reason that people are not open and honest at work – they think what they say will somehow cause them trouble, so they “defend” against that trouble in a MYRIAD of ways. My method (THE SCORE) is a method that requires only three things:
1)      You know what makes for good communication
2)      Adjust YOUR way of communicating to conform with those rules (in YOUR unique way),  and
3)      Facilitate other people in communicating in that same way (usually, without them knowing it).

I will teach you these things, so don’t worry that you don’t know them now – you will over the next few weeks. As you begin to practice them, others will just see you as the kind of person they can talk to about anything and it will seem natural to do so. They will feel that way because you will SHOW them that you are that kind of person.

Some of the ways we promote defensiveness in others are listed in the table below. Ways to PROMOTE DEFENSIVENESS (detract from good communication) are in the first two columns). Ways to INHIBIT DEFENSIVENESS (encourage good communication) are in the last two columns.

Example Behaviors that Promotes Defensiveness
Common Names for Bad Behavior
Behavior to Inhibit Defensiveness
Common Names for Good Behavior
Acting as if your ideas are fully formed, vetted, and can’t be improved upon.  Input or critique is not welcomed
Arrogance, Closed-mindedness
Explicitly stating that our ideas have some room for improvement. Use other’s involvement in the formulation of ideas to create buy-in
Tentativeness; Humility
Ignoring or arguing with the feelings or opinions of others such that you indicate that they don’t matter (or don’t exist)
Self-centered; Isolated; “Steamroller”; Disconnected
Explicitly demonstrating an understanding of the feelings and opinions of others, considering them,  and expressing that they are important; Speaking kindly, giving the benefit of the doubt
Empathetic; Fair-minded
Using vocabulary or terms that is not familiar to the person with whom we are trying to communicate; or using vocabulary that is aimed below their level of capability
Snobbish; Show-off; Talking Down; Confusing
Using vocabulary chosen specifically for the people with whom we are communicating (defining unfamiliar acronyms, using two syllable words, explicitly asking for understanding, watching non-verbal cues for confusion)
Simple; Clear; Meaningful
Using prepared “boilerplate” information that doesn’t take the specific audience into account; Using words to manipulate; offering weak excuses
Insincere; Manipulative; Dishonest; Condescending
Speak from the heart, being kind and honest ; being fair and firm
Telling rather than asking; listening
Closed minded; Disconnected; Rude
Asking questions, including follow-up questions to answers
Acting as if your ideas are fully formed, vetted, and can’t be improved upon.  Input or critique is not welcomed; Cutting others off
Closed minded; Arrogant; Rude;
Sharing the weak points of your own position; asking for suggestions; listening summarizing to assure understanding; weighing trade-offs; changing your mind when warranted
Cutting others off; insulting; dismissing their ideas without reasoning
Disrespectful; Rude
Listening; fully considering proposed ideas; giving reasons for disagreement
Holding multiple discussions at a time; not focusing one someone speaking to you; multitasking (phone, email) while someone is discussing something important with you
Disrespectful; Disengaged; Disingenuous
Focusing your attention on your counterpart; rescheduling discussions based on their priority in order to give attention

I suggest you look through the first two columns to identify the things that POOR COMMUNICATORS IN YOUR LIFE currently do that detract from good communication. It is usually easiest to see these things in others, especially those that already bother us. Then look at what GOOD BEHAVIORS they would have to implement to improve the situation. Wouldn’t things be better if they would do them?

Then look through the first two columns looking for things that YOU might do. I found it useful in my life to ask people if they thought any of the names in the second column applied to me. I wouldn’t ask them to explain, and I wouldn’t try to tell them they were wrong, or give excuses….. I would just thank them. Then I would practice the behaviors in the last two columns that were prescribed. It is difficult for people to tell us our short comings (unless they trust us). If you find that your circle of co-workers find you perfect, you need to search yourself. Are they just afraid to tell you the truth? If you are truly perfect, then I need you as a mentor.

THE SCORE is a model that I created that stands for:

Simplicity (and Sincerity)

The right hand column in the table above corresponds with the model elements. We will go into detail on these elements next time.

Insist on great business results! Go to Pathfinder Communication

No comments: