A Problem With Perception


There are two things to consider when undergoing any kind of improvement initiative:

  1. The actual improvement.
  2. The perception by others that improvement has happened (or is happening).

Improvement and perception don’t go hand-in-hand. We often expect they do and can get off-put when no one takes notice of the improvements we’ve made. We fail to realize that significant improvement alone usually results in little to no change in others perceiving we’ve made an improvement. This is especially true for anyone trying to change a prickly interpersonal behavior.


Let’s take “Late Guy.” He’s late to meetings so often that his team just expects him to be late all the time. Some of his team even, in a weird way, root for him to be late in order to play up to his annoying behavior so they can top the most recent “Late Guy” water cooler story.

Parched Pete: “You can NOT believe how late ‘Late Guy’ was today!”

Dehydrated Diane: “Tell me about it. That guy is a hot mess.”

Let’s say “Late Guy” suddenly decided to fix his tardiness problem. How long would it take his team to notice? If he just worked at being on time and not his team’s perception of him being on time, what are the odds that his team would stop rooting for him to be late? When would they stop expecting “Late Guy” and start noticing “On Time Guy”?

Digging Out

So how do you get yourself out of this mess? Here are three things you can do now:

  1. Own the Perception Problem!  Other people’s perceptions of you is Your Responsibility, not theirs.  This means stop looking at other people to blame for not seeing the better you. Look in the mirror, “Billy Blame it All!” It’s time for you to be accountable for how others see you.
  2. Apologize When Necessary.  If what you are trying to improve has affected anyone in a bad way in the past, say you’re sorry. This can quickly stomp out any bad blood from the past and put the focus on an optimistic future.
  3. Tell Everyone and Ask for Help.  Tell your team. Tell your manager. Tell your family. Get it out there. “Hey everyone! I’m trying to get better at X and I need your help.” By doing so, those people are more likely to become problem solvers with you and not a critic of you. They will start looking for the new you in place of the old you and will expect the positive behaviors that come with it.


Take ownership of managing others’ perceptions of you. Don’t let yourself be victimized by them.  Be genuine with yourself and others in resolving to right any bad perceptions and communicate your intent to do so.

This post is largely inspired from something I read in the book Mojo by Marshall Goldsmith. At best this post is a bad representation of a great book, but the book alone has inspired a lot my Coaching career here at the Fool. I highly recommend reading it.

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