Perception is Reality, and Reality isn’t Always Kind

by Onyeka Nchege on June 15, 2016

Perception Vs Reality Fact Fiction Proving Truth Versus MythYou were not open to feedback. Not only did you come across disinterested in receiving any feedback at all, but you seemed disinterested in any clarity surrounding the feedback you were provided with. In fact, you came across quite strong, you came across as if you were ready for war.” I can still remember those very words, and I’ve had to reflect on them quite a lot lately. When I heard them, my first instinct was to defend myself and respond with, “No, that’s not how I came across!” And, while I didn’t quite give in to that instinct, that very notion was certainly projected through various nonverbal cues. But, like I said, I’ve had to reflect on those words a lot lately, and there’s always a silver lining of revelation within reflection.

I’ve since had opportunities to sit back and really reflect on that entire day- not just the feedback I received, but the way in which I responded to that feedback. I asked myself, “Is there anything, anything at all I could have done differently?” The short answer is yes, but what?  In hindsight, I should’ve “set the table” for that feedback to be more appetizing both for myself – the one who will “consume” the feedback – and the one preparing and “serving” that feedback to me. After all, as Ken Blanchard says, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” After days of reflection with that in mind, I was able to identify three things I could’ve done differently to ensure I was prepared to “consume” that feedback, and, equally as important, ensure that the person “serving” that feedback was encouraged and comfortable in doing so.

Set the table: In order to make the most of any feedback session, it’s important to set the table so as to make it more inviting. For example, on that day, I asked for feedback as I was leaning forward from the edge of my chair. It’s important to remember that in business, as in life, our nonverbal cues are almost more important than our verbal ones. Nonverbal cues are often subtle, unconscious behavior patterns. These are very difficult to control and therefore, are typically the most accurate representation of our emotions and thoughts. So, as I leaned forward and asked for feedback from the edge of my chair, the other person in the room was hearing “I want your feedback,” but they were really seeing, “I don’t really want your feedback,” which left that person to question whether or not I was truly open to any feedback at all. That wasn’t my intention at all, but perception is reality and that’s how I was perceived to be feeling. Next time, I will make a conscious effort to align my thoughts with my body language, in order to set the table for an open, productive and inviting feedback session.

Sound that dinner bell: When it’s time to eat at home, I always call for everyone to make their way to the table. This gesture is a warm invitation for everyone to join the meal. On the day of that feedback session, my tone of voice and my choice of words did not resemble the same warm, inviting sound my family hears before dinner. That’s a problem. In fact, “strong,” “assertive,” and “uninviting” were all words used to describe my tone of voice that day, in regards to how I sounded when asking for clarity around certain parts of feedback. This is a prime example of, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” The fact of that matter is I was genuinely interested in that clarity; I really wanted to know. But, between my tone and the accompanying nonverbal cues, that is not how it came across. Next time, I will make sure to soften my tone to portray a more receptive, warm and inviting one. After all, you’d never want to eat with someone who doesn’t sound interested in eating with you.

Mmm, that’s delicious: Words matter, and that’s the truth. For example, when you’re eating and someone serves you something that tastes delicious, your subtle words of affirmation – like “Mmm” and “That’s yummy!” – encourage the server to keep up the good work, to keep coming back to the table. Have you ever told someone you enjoyed their food when you really didn’t? We all have, and it’s not because we want to lie, but rather, we want to acknowledge and respect the effort that person put in to prepare and serve that food. As I look back and reflect on the day of my feedback session, I realize I didn’t say anything to acknowledge or encourage the other person’s efforts. Nobody is entitled to feedback. It’s a gift given to those who are willing to receive it, and its sole purpose is to help you continue to grow and develop. But, in that situation, I offered nothing that resembled affirmation or encouragement. Instead, I responded with “Got it,” which undoubtedly came across as short, and possibly for cold or dismissive. Though I may not have liked the feedback or “food” I was served, it is my responsibility to acknowledge and show respect to the one serving it and to encourage that person to keep coming back to the table. After all, it takes a lot of effort for them to do so in the first place.

And so, though I continue to reflect on recent my feedback session, I haven’t lost sight of the positive feedback. There were a ton of high points throughout the session, as I was commended several times for my strengths and my skills. Positive affirmation aside though, there truly was a silver lining within. Perhaps it was even a blessing in disguise, because I have learned to value and cherish feedback, and perhaps more importantly, I have learned how to receive it. Perception is reality, and although I may not have agreed with every point, I must acknowledge the fact that someone feels that way; someone perceives those observations to be true. That’s what matters.

The late, great Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” and that’s what this is all about. Set the table beforehand, and when you ring that dinner bell, ring it with warmth and compassion. Lastly, when it’s finally time to eat, acknowledge the effort put into the “food” you’re about to consume. You may not always like the taste, but taste isn’t a direct reflection of the effort one had to put in to prepare it and serve it. After all, nobody wants to eat alone….and if you aren’t able to take feedback well, that’s exactly what you’ll will end up doing. 

Take Action: Take some time to reflect on the last time you received feedback. Did you set the table properly? When you rang the bell, how did it sound? Did you offer any words or nonverbal cues of affirmation and encouragement to those offering the less positive feedback? Think about it, and think about how you can work to ensure you do all of the above next time.

Leadership on the GO…..It’s O.N.


Businessman Falling on Wet FloorOur greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time,” said Thomas Edison. Just over a year ago, I wrote a post entitled,“Life Beyond an Epic Fail,” in which I talked about three leadership principles you can engage to overcome a failure, ensuring it will not be repeated. Recently, though, I learned I actually overlooked something when writing that post. Thanks to one of my daughters, I learned how important it is to celebrate our failures.

The old proverb says, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” but we tend to disagree. Most of us know what it’s like to fall face first into failure,and when that happens, the last thing we want to do is to get up and try again. That’s just human nature. It’s not until we assess our failures that we identify which wrongs to right in order to avoid failing down again, and more importantly, to build the confidence to “try again.” Sometimes it takes an extended period of time to build that confidence, because our fear of repeating failure overshadows our willpower to get up and give it another shot. 

But, instead of initially assessing all we did wrong, what if we focussed on what we did right? For example, if I set a goal to run five miles non-stop, but was only able to complete the first mile before stopping, it would be more productive to focus on the success of that first mile, instead of initially assessing the failures embedded within the last four. Not to mention, doing so will help me identify an achievement worth celebrating and move me one step closer to a positive place filled with the motivation and determination necessary to succeed the second time around. But what helped put this in perspective? 

Recently, my daughter tried out for her school’s cheer team. In preparation for her tryout, she spent a week learning the routines and practicing with the other girls who planned to try out. Thursday night, after the tryout, we learned she was one of three who, out of fifteen total, did not make the team. As you can imagine, she was devastated. To her, this was falling face first into failure. As most of us have before, she immediately resorted to feelings of embarrassment and inadequacy, repeatedly asking questions as to why she wasn’t “good enough” for the team.  

To get a better understanding as to why she was not selected, we set up a meeting with the coaches for the following week. On our way to the meeting, my daughter said, “my jumps were not right.” By doing so, she was communicating an understanding and acceptance of what she felt went wrong at the tryout. There is so much value in that notion, and I was so proud of her for taking the initiative to do so. I grew even prouder after the meeting, when I asked my daughter how she felt about the end result. She answered with, “You win some, you lose some.” In that moment, it was clear to me that my daughter opted to take the high road and persevere. I wish my daughter would have used such optimism initially, working to identify the details worth celebrating before resorting to feelings of sorrow. As she quickly realized, though her jumps were not right, there was still a great deal she did do correctly, according to the coaches. My hope is that she will use this experience to guide her the next time she falls face first into failure, finding the motivation and determination to succeed the second time around. 

Though his wisdom is often overlooked, I think Charles Barkley said it best: “If you are afraid of failure, you don’t deserve to be successful.” It’s that simple. You can’t possibly appreciate the power of achievement until you’ve experienced the detriment of failure. Fall down seven times, stand up eight; Try, try again. 

Take Action: Look back on a recent “failure” of yours. Can you recognize something you did right along the way? I encourage you to recognize those moments of success within your “face first” falls into failure, and use them to propel forward and persevere.  

Leadership on the Go…It’s O.N.


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