Perception versus Reality – it’s a phrase I think most of us have heard before and it isn’t to difficult to understand its meaning. Basically, it purports that what you think is real isn’t actually real. Some common examples where this phrase comes into consideration:
Perception: Bob thinks he is a great singer
Reality: The very sound of Bob singing makes nuns drop to their knees, turn their face to the Heavens and say “Sweet Jesus save me! Satan is amongst us!”*
Perception: Bob thinks that if he trained he could run a mile under 4 minutes
Reality: Bob would pull a muscle in 10 feet and claim that the sun was in his eyes
Perception: Bob thinks his hair color makes him look old
Reality: The silvery luster of his hair is actually irresistible to women
in nursing homes.
See what I mean? Perception vs. reality … pretty simple right? Wrong.
I learned a valuable lesson around my 2nd or 3rd year out of college that stuck with me ever since. I worked in a very small firm – it might have just been just two of us back then. As a result, I was able to do all sorts of things out of necessity because my boss couldn’t be all places and all things to all people at all times. This situation frequently put me in front of clients and I thought I did a pretty good job handling it … until one day when my boss told me that we needed to have a chat.
Boss: Uhm, … we need to have a chat.
Young F.O.S.** Bob: Awesome! Whatever (double finger pistols bang bang)
Boss: I got a call from “Mr. Big” [not the client’s real name] and he told me that he doesn’t want to work with you anymore
Young F.O.S. Bob: Awesome… wait. Wassthat?
Boss: Yeah. He, uhm … He told me that he doesn’t want to work with you because you make him feel stupid.
Young F.O.S. Bob: How is that even possible!? I’m 26 and he’s like 100 and the President of ‘Giant Company’!
Boss: He said that you speak to him like he’s 10 years old, doesn’t know anything and …
Young F.O.S. Bob: (interrupting) hold on, hold on a minute. I am trying to “e x p l a i n” what we are doing, I don’t treat him like he’s a kid … I like Mr. Big.
Boss: You talk down to him and he doesn’t like it. Bottom line is that he doesn’t want to work with you and that’s a real problem for me.
Young F.O.S. Bob: But he’s wrong, maybe if I could explain that to him …
Boss: (interrupting) That’s just it … He is the client, you work for him – his perception is reality regardless of what you think.
That was a lesson I will never forget. I don’t claim that I have stopped talking down to people but I am conscious of that behavior and I am more careful how I speak to clients (tip #1 – don’t talk like an architect). I had a conversation about this very subject this weekend with my wife and as always, she succinctly made a supporting point that no two people have the same reality and therefore they can’t have the same perception of that same reality.
Let’s say you are in a restaurant and you think the service is crap because you have to flag down your waiter constantly for every possible thing – it’s like he doesn’t even know you’re there! One table over, someone else thinks the service is fantastic because the waiter isn’t constantly bugging them and topping off their tea whenever it drops a 1/2″ causing them to perform Ph.D level chemistry equations to get the right ratio of sugar/ tea while taking into consideration the amount of tea remaining with the amount added, the rate at which the ice is melting, and since you’re not using real sugar anyway do you need to add an 1/8th of a packet or is it more like 3/16th’s? As a result, you’re thinking you need to start drinking unsweetened tea … and now you hate your waiter.
Same restaurant, same waiter, same service – drastically different perceptions of the same reality. Think the tip will be the same? No, I don’t think so either.
At some point, and in almost every conceivable customer service situation, there is no difference between perception and reality. What each person perceived might as well have been reality because they based their actions (or reactions) on their own experience of the event. Learning how to deal with the perception of others as if it were your own reality is hard but it’s an important skill to learn. A really, really important skill.
* That isn’t true, they actually think they are hearing a multitude of angels singing as the Gates of Heaven open for them
**F.O.S. – full of stupidity