Life is a game of chance between perception and reality. Nature is reality but human nature is largely one of perception. Human beings struggle to discover the ‘real’ you or me, in the process, viewing perceptions as the realities. Reality is the true situation that actually exists in life while perception is the way one notices the true situation in life. The enlightened or the ‘jnani’, as defined in a Hindu philosophical sense, perceives reality as the reality and also is open in bringing out the real person. Given that most individuals fail to reach or do not wish to reach the state of enlightenment, perceptions are also different from realities. The conflict and contrast between the reality and perception underpins the challenges of day to day human dynamics and influences the course of organizational behavior. It is appropriate to, therefore, understand the implications of the reality-perception paradigm.
The discourse on perception and reality is carried out in two schools. One school holds that it is irrelevant to seek to discover what the reality is when an individual is a social and economic being, conditioned by several benchmarks and aspirations. This school maintains that in any organization, be it the family, educational institution or the employer, individuals are bound by certain common goals, the fulfillment of which is the responsibility and obligation of individuals, independent of their and their organizational realities. The other school believes that all human discontent and strife is because of the mismatch between reality and perception, both about oneself and the others. This school maintains that if only people understood the realities completely there would be greater equity and equanimity in human dynamics.
Human life, though a creation of Nature, is not a natural life; it is a conditioned life. Social and economic conditioners modify behavior patterns to be externally perceived differently from the internal realities. They also blur the ability of individuals to at least note, if not analyze and improve upon, the realities. From an individual perspective, family and friends are the most significant conditioners that define one’s values, attitudes, aspirations and performance metrics. As a result, often individuals exist and live for the goals and aspirations set by the conditioners rather than those set by their hearts and souls. That said, it is neither wrong nor right to lead a conditioned life that looks after others’ interests rather than one’s own. As long as such living does not lead to major conflicts between perception and reality such conditioned life could be socially and economically fulfilling. To achieve that, individuals need to introspect for reality and adjust for perceptions.
Organizational life, a creation of human beings, on the other hand, is explicitly designed to fulfill the needs of the society and the economy. It is conditioned to perpetually grow. It does not matter if the team members are diverse in their educational and experience backgrounds and heterogeneous in their social and economic conditioning. Their objective is to fulfill organizational goals of serving the society and economy with appropriate products and services. Unlike in a purely individual life, a corporation must look after its interests by first and primarily serving the needs of the consumers. The individuals of an organization, ipso facto, must serve the broader organizational goals. For that to happen, all organizational members must function harmoniously. Many times, organizations believe that salaries and incentives are the conditioners for such performance. However, the triggers are different.
Organizations would be successful when they collaborate internally and compete externally. A successful organization would require each of its team members to be competitive in his or her trade but the organization cannot afford to have team members who compete with each other. For team members to be internally collaborative, communication is the key. For communication between people to be effective, trust is essential. Trust develops when people are perceived to be open and collaborative. The closed loop of collaboration illustrates that perceptions of collaborative behavior are essential to ensure a reality of internal collaboration. For an organization to be an effective competitor, internal collaboration is critical amongst various functions and individuals of an organization. Companies which practice concurrent engineering and coordinated delivery, for example, are more successful than those that are prone to sequential or stage-gated development and delivery.
Perceptions are the key enablers of collaboration. People constantly make judgments of each other’s behavior while they also tend to straightjacket themselves into certain behavior patterns. These range from affable to aggressive, and consensual to assertive, for example. In addition, people are often perceived in terms of both positive perceptions (for example, helpful, selfless, knowledgeable and empathetic) and negative perceptions (for example, unhelpful, selfish, pedestrian and arrogant). It is important for individuals and team managers to identify and reinforce contextually relevant positive traits and eliminate contextually counterproductive negative traits. The organizational challenge is two-fold: first, select people who have real attributes that are as close as possible to the desired organizational benchmarks and second, develop people so that their perceived behaviors are aligned to the desired organizational benchmarks.
Like all management challenges, perception management requires a conceptual and analytical framework. The 2X2 perception grid, which this blog post proposes, enables such conceptualization and analysis. The grid has on the X-axis Positive and Negative Perceptions, and on the Y-axis Enablers and Disablers. The four sub-grids that are possible are Enablers of Positive Perceptions (EPP), Enablers of Negative Perceptions (ENP), Disablers of Positive Perceptions (DPP) and Disablers of Negative Perceptions (DNP). Clearly, an organizational ecosystem that maximizes the EPP and DNP grids and minimizes the DPP and ENP grids is an ideal goal. This goal is easier set than achieved, however. There are two major conditioners for the suboptimal ecosystem. Firstly, people embed and exhibit specific and time-ossified personality types. Secondly, different organizational situations require different personality dispositions and individuals as well as managers may lack maturity and flexibility to adapt and change.
Positive perceptions of a person essentially arise from one’s knowledge, how productively one deploys it, and how positively one communicates it. The level of positivity tends to be adversely impacted if any of the three factors is compromised. Negative perceptions of a person essentially arise from lack of knowledge, inability to apply available knowledge and a resistant approach to disseminate knowledge. The level of negativity tends to be further worsened if any of the three factors is further compromised. In both the cases, communication plays a major part. People in EPP and DNP grids are likely to be highly positive communicators while individuals in the ENP and DPP grids are likely to be negative communicators. The three determinants of communication are content, style and empathy. The positivity of communication is enhanced by the strength of content, the coherence of delivery and the trust created by empathy. The pathway to a collaborative team lies in reinforcing positive perceptions through the three positive traits and enabling positive communication through the three components.
As opposed to the common ‘perception’ that perception is a state that is different from reality, perceptive ability denotes an ability to see or understand things quickly and correctly, especially things that are not obvious. An individual must have a perceptive ability to understand how one is perceived. The real ‘one’ has to be subordinate to the desired perception of one in the team context. In the field of teaching and public speaking, introverts tend to don the mantle of extroverts to fulfill their responsibility. Individuals who stray off their careers of aptitude reshape themselves to match up to their accountabilities and responsibilities. While one need not be either artificial or affected, one must understand how one must carry oneself gracefully and in a positively influential manner, based on the strategic context.
A virtuous organization would have not only more individuals who have positive traits but also those who promote positivity in relationships. The organization would be knowledge based, task-focused, performance-driven, relationship-oriented, communication-savvy and apolitical. The leaders would be evangelists rather than enforcers and mentors rather than managers. The individual team members, rather than analyzing themselves and others in a quest for difficult-to-discover realties, would endeavor to develop and appreciate positive perceptions. This is not to suggest that a collaborative organization is based only on positive perceptions and positive communication. As the blog post discussed earlier, one has to be positively real in terms of knowledge and its deployment and its dissemination as well as in terms of content, style and empathy of communication. There can be no reality compromise on these six critical factors of positive perception.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on November 16, 2013