Recently, a colleague of mine at Excella reminded my project team that “your client’s perception is your reality”. You may be working dutifully on the task that you’ve been assigned, but if your client only sees you surfing at lunch, which is the reality that matters? The extreme counter example of this is the Seinfeld episode where George parks his car at Yankee stadium and never checks in to work. The early-birds are impressed that he’s already there, and the late people are impressed that his car is still there when they leave.
But I got to wondering, isn’t this the truth in all business relationships? If your boss or coworkers see you as a junior-level PM because they wear sport jackets and you don’t, which is the reality that matters? If the grapevine relays your insightful opinions awkwardly, aren’t they somewhat tainted? The best way to overcome this is through Proactive Communciation. Check in with people often, and get a sense of where you stand with them. Every interaction doesn’t have to be as on-the-spot as “So, how do you think I’m doing?”, but you want to make sure you’re aware of how people perceive you. When you start that kind of dialog, you open up opportunities to correct false perceptions. “Really? Let’s talk about how you came to that conclusion.”
Your sphere of influence is limited by how well people receive your input. If perceptions of you have gone askew, you won’t be an effective leader, or even an effective contributor for your cause.