Perceptions Are Reality
The first time I quit my job to start a new business, I was 24 years old and in over my head. I knew that if I kept on doing the right things, I would succeed, but it wasn’t always clear what the right things were.
One of the pieces of advice that was handed down to me many times in my life was to act the part, dress the part or even look the part.
Maybe you have heard this saying before, maybe you haven’t. All you need to understand is that it is sage advice for anyone looking to excel in business. The premise is that if you want to be respected, act in a manner that deserves respect. Over time, you can mold the way people around you perceive your presence.
While it was hard hard to look the part at 24, it was very easy to dress and act the part. While I was in over my head as a business owner, immature in many ways, and not a snazzy dresser, I chose to act as if I belonged at the table in every business situation I came across. Eventually I became the person that I wanted to be.
How you are perceived by others becomes their version of reality
It turns out that these sayings were part of a broader lesson that affects our careers in more ways than we can imagine.That lesson is that for many people, their perceptions of you are cemented as reality in their minds.
Have you ever wondered why certain people are promoted more quickly through an organization or why certain people always seem to receive favorable treatment?
Have you ever equated this treatment with nepotism, ass kissing or game playing?
Have you ever refused to play those same games because of your ideologies, a lack of energy or disdain of politics?
You are not alone. I thought this way at one point in my life, but not long enough to let it inhibit my career options.
If perceptions are reality, make sure you are perceived as being invaluable
While timing and dumb luck will have a lot to do with the upward velocity of your career path, you need to make many smart moves along the way to get ahead.
You need to put in time on the job and use strategic communications to keep in front of the decision makers in your company.
You need to send a message to the people that will help you get promoted that you are someone worthy of a promotion. If you are perceived as not having enough experience on the job, then you need to seek out that experience on your own time and often your own dime.
You need to dress and act the part of your superiors in order to be considered superior yourself. If your superiors are “old school” and wear sport coats or suits and ties, then you should start dressing like them.
The importance of face time
While nepotism is a reality in many work environments, it is often falsely stated as the reason for the wrong people getting promoted within a business. In my opinion, people will promote their relatives and family members because of the amount of face time they have with them, not because they are related. It is easy for a business decision maker to put trust into someone who they see in both work and social circles, because of the amount of time that they spend together.
For the rest of us, one thing that gets you noticed more quickly than anything else is the perception of putting in hours above and beyond the normal work schedule.
If you are still working when everyone else is leaving, it gets noticed. If you are working later than everyone else, you have the opportunity to form a bond with anyone else who also work late on occasion.
What if you are working late and the company President is still there? Go say hi to them on your way out of the office. Tell them that you appreciate the hard work that they are putting in and that it sets an example for the rest of the company. Talk about a great face time opportunity!
Some people may consider that brown nosing or ass kissing. That is not ass kissing, that is strategy. Everyone appreciates it when an executive at their company is setting that type of example. It makes you think that the company will be successful well into the future. You just happen to be telling the President what everyone else is thinking.
Be tactful, be respectful, but be aware that what you are doing will likely lead to good things in the future.
Keeping up perceptions can be a lot of work in itself, but in many ways it may be necessary to advance.
The power of introductions
How you introduce yourself can have an interesting effect on how you are perceived. For example, if you want to become an entrepreneur, start introducing yourself as an entrepreneur to any new people that you meet and observe how they react.
When I introduce myself to new people, I have been experimenting with different back stories to perfect my introductions.
When I describe myself as an entrepreneur, people often find me to be more exciting than I actually am.
When I describe myself as unemployed (which has technically been true for the past 6 months), people tend to dismiss everything I have to say from that point forward.
When I describe myself as a consultant, people respond with pre-conceived feelings about the profession.
Nobody knows as much about you as you do. They don't know your doubts, ambitions or failures. They know what you tell them. Use that to your advantage whenever possible.
Key learning: People often find entrepreneurship exciting and something that they would love to do if only they didn’t have a family/kids/dogs/college loans/a boat/living beyond their means that prevents them from taking the plunge. Many want to live vicariously through your adventures and perceive you in a positive manner.
Perceptions are hard to change
What are you? Is that different from what you want to be known as? If there is a difference, it's your fault.
If you do not see any room for advancement in a company, don’t feel appreciated, or negative perceptions of you have already been formed, then it might be time to move on from that company. Just make sure that in your next adventure you use this advice to reinvent yourself at your next employer.
Starting with a clean slate, you get to develop a new reality.
Perceptions are reality for many people
If perceptions are reality, then you have full control over the reality that you represent in your career.
So what are you telling them?