An owl winking

Importance of Perception

Heads up! This article was published over 45 months ago.

During my most recent performance review at work, my boss and I began discussing communication. For almost my entire life, I have had an weakness when it comes to communicating with my co-workers. I can articulate my thoughts well, and enjoy documenting code and processes, but there is a recurring perception that I "don't care" about my job - but this couldn't be farther from the truth.

It was brought up that I have excellent work ethic and my boss believes I am one of the hardest workers at my company. Yet, due to several reasons such as my sarcastic nature, the fact I don't often smile, and have a very even and flat emotional level, it's perceived to others that I lack drive and ambition. This is nothing new to me, I've had this recurring problem everywhere I've gone, including the Army.

In a strange twist of fate, I so happened to be reading a book entitled "Release It!: Design and Deploy Production-Ready Software" a few days ago. In it the author was describing a situation in which the airline company he worked for had a major outage. Part of the post-mortem, the author flew to another location to talk to the team them and assess what he could salvage from the server information. The reason for this was not for solving the problem itself, but also for managing the perception that his team was looking for answers. His direct quote:

"...managing perception after a major incident can be as important as managing the incident itself." - Michael T. Nygard

I'm taking the quote a bit out of context here, but the lesson is roughly the same. Even though I do care about my job a great deal and do a lot behind the scenes, people don't see that. They only know what I "give" them in the form of enthusiasm, reaction, micro-interactions, other words - the perception.

My Plan

The goal is to manage this perception using a combination of factors.

  1. Maintain eye contact with the person I am talking to.
  2. Don't isolate myself and be more social at work through small talk.
  3. Reduce the sarcasm when appropriate. If others are concerned or stressed out, don't try to cut the tension with a joke. Things are serious to my co-workers, so I need to act like they are serious even if I find them insignificant.
  4. Reduce or cut passive aggressiveness. We all suffer from this affliction.
  5. Be an advocate for my accomplishments. If I do something cool, share it with people. Don't assume anyone cares.

That at least starts me out with giving me a good leg up on trying to improve my soft skills. It will be difficult for me to quantity or measure the results of my efforts, I will be able to tell a difference based on the attitudes afforded to me.

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