Intention vs. Impact (the Perception Gap)

This is the final in the  series of posts  on how to make your  conversations more productive.  The  perception gap is a fantastic tool  on how to walk away from conversations without the ‘shadow of doubt’ we often trick ourselves into believing doesn’t exist.

A simple perception gap example of differences in perception is this image above – what do you see? Some people see a duck, others a rabbit. Some can see both. Either way everyone is right.

The words we use, the behaviours and mannerisms we exhibit and the tone we voice can often be misinterpreted. Using CAPS in an email indicates shouting to one person, yet emphasis to others. Sitting across from someone with crossed arms we’ve been trained to interpret as ‘closed’ energy. Even more often, we misinterpret a whisper, a shift in eye movement, or someone’s late arrival as personal.

A fantastic tool for clearing up this disparity is identifying the ‘perception gap’.

It’s comes down to a couple of simple principles:

1. When you set out to convey a message to another/ others you have  intent  (often conscious or not!).  Make sure you know what your intent is before you start.

2. Conversely, when you interpret a message from others, it has an  impact  on you as the receiver. Make the choice to respond vs. react to what is being expressed – aka don’t make assumptions, jump to conclusions without clarity first.

Often we get it right and the intent and the impact match – hallelujah we’re on the same page! But oh so often we’re off the mark – and the gap between what we intend and its impact are completely different perceptions.

It’s called the  perception gap. This perception gap can be felt, seen, experienced and interpreted. I actually get Clients to visualise it (holding arms wide open vs. thumb and forefinger millimetres apart) because it helps to set the scene of how important it is to minimise its size. I’m certain we’ve all had the experience of what we’re trying to express not land with our audience or be blown out of proportion… and the opposite where (fingers crossed) you achieve the exact reaction you’re after.

How can you consistency ‘land’ what you want to say with others? Look at how you can minimise the perception gap – prevent working in series’ of Chinese whispers. Some great ways to ensure this could be:

–      Check in with your audience for their feedback – how have they interpreted what you’ve communicated?

–      Ask them how they’d explain it in their own words.

–      Ask them what meaning they have interpreted, and how this will impact their next actions or how they’ll pass on the information to their colleagues/ team.

–      Ask to spend some time discussing, to ensure clarity and that you both need to be on the same page, to minimise time and energy wastage after walking away from the conversation.

–      Read their body language, is it passing the head nod test? Are they frowning?

I will leave you with this,  don’t fall victim to the domino effect… small misinterpretations grow into large misunderstandings… that grow into erroneous stories… that ultimately erode trust, credibility and transparency… and eventually negatively impact performance.

Consciously minimising the perception gap will make your conversations valuable, relationships better, way of doing business more effective.

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‘be the change you wish to see’  - Mahatma Gandhi