The other day I overheard some young people talking. A fresh graduate from high school was posing this question to his peers.
Is it illegal to wear a ski mask into a bank to conduct business?
Obviously, I would not suggest trying this to find out. The brief snippet of this conversation I overheard started me thinking about how important it is to understand others’ perception. If you walk into a bank wearing a ski mask, your intentions are far less important than others’ perceptions of your intentions.
When I’m on a bus or subway, I like looking around and trying to see how much I can tell about the fellow passengers just by looking at them. It is a simple way I try to keep myself in practice of noticing small details about people.
But just as important is the ability to understand how you are being perceived by others. We often plow ahead with our ideas without any thought as to how others perceive our actions and attitudes.
Here are some things to ask yourself after interactions with others:
- What did the person hear? What you said and what they heard may be very different things. Based on what you know about the person, which parts of your conversation would they be likely to remember? If they were to immediately summarize your conversation with someone else, what are likely to be the main points they remember?
- Did they feel threatened? If you challenge the status quo, don’t assume that others will focus on the value of your ideas. Entrenched stakeholders are often threatened by new ideas. This is especially true if you are dealing with people, who over many years, have molded their jobs into positions that require very little real work.
- How do they perceive your authority? Misreading this piece of information can cause all kinds of roadblocks.
Originally published August 29, 2007.