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.

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A recent finalist for the 2017 ORBIE CIO of the Year award, Onyeka brings more than 20 years of experience leading teams, developing strategies and building technology solutions. He has also led the creation and integration of technology solutions for a network of retail store franchises and distributors across North and Central America. Onyeka contributes to CIO Review magazine and shares his insights and experience with peers and colleagues via his own blog, Before joining Interstate Batteries in 2015, Onyeka led teams at Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated, where he modernized technology practices and powered business processes for daily, on-the-street use. He is a graduate of the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University and currently serves on the EVANTA Dallas CIO Governing Body. If Onyeka were not at Interstate, he’d find another way to combine his three biggest passions: his faith, helping others, and, of course, information technology. Because ultimately, as he puts it, “we can’t help everyone, but everyone can always help someone.”

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Lisa Wommack June 15, 2016 at 5:58 pm

Really great analogy, Onyeka. It is a great reminder to make sure the lines of communication are flowing freely and with mutual respect. Constructive criticism isn’t always easy to hear but if given and taken with best intentions it can lead to amazing growth.


avatar Onyeka Nchege June 15, 2016 at 7:37 pm

True indeed Lisa. Well said! Intentions is a difference maker.

Thanks for sharing.


avatar Lee Herrin June 16, 2016 at 5:04 pm

Ouch! I know that was tough to hear. Thank you for sharing it with us here. You have provided a great reminder. Will you provide a follow-up?
Some of the toughest conversations (my perception because of my ego/feelings) have borne the most fruit for me both professionally and spiritually. As humans we grow through adversity more than comfort.


avatar Onyeka Nchege June 16, 2016 at 8:41 pm

Thanks Lee. Definitely will provide a follow up on this blog. Adversity is the key to growth. Well said.


avatar Otelia Hudson June 17, 2016 at 2:07 pm

Poignant post and it definitely has me thinking…… I will be mindful to “set the table”.


avatar Onyeka Nchege June 17, 2016 at 2:47 pm

Thanks Otelia. Totally agree – Mindfulness will yield the right results.

Thanks for sharing.


avatar Adam C. Gibbs August 24, 2016 at 4:50 pm

Great article Onyeka. Leaders need to understand that perception is reality in the minds of many and as leaders we need to be open to feedback regardless to how it makes us feel. That feedback may come come from customers, associates, competitors and regulators and as leaders we need to listen, learn, leverage and lead.


avatar Onyeka Nchege August 24, 2016 at 9:30 pm

Well said Mr. Gibbs! Love the 4 Ls at the end. I will take that with me and incorporate.


avatar Mary COok September 8, 2016 at 6:53 pm

Onyeka – For some reason this escaped me and I just saw it today. What a well-writtten (as usual) article, with much food for thought! I agree with Lisa, as well…Intention drives the tone of the presentation and allows for receptivity.
Once again, thank you for your writing!


avatar Onyeka Nchege September 13, 2016 at 11:17 pm

Thanks Mary! Glad you saw it. Thanks for reading and leaving your comment. Receptivity is a key to growth.


avatar Steve May 30, 2017 at 10:42 am

Well said. Thank you for sharing this valuable coaching!


avatar Onyeka Nchege July 11, 2017 at 9:37 pm

Thanks Steve. Much appreciated.


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