Perception is reality! Really? Take 2


Transformational feedback – manipulation – true connection

In my last blog I wrote about my first perplexity on “perception is reality” – which apparently enters more and more the public domain and political debate, having us enter the “post-factual” era. Quite mind-boggling for a passionate researcher and curious thinker like me. Yet, I want to share another perplexity around the notion of “perception is reality” which is its manipulative power – in the good and in the bad sense of it. The good sense of it: yes, you can help yourself (and others) overcoming adversity by choosing how to perceive an event. Focussing on the potential learning that comes with a criticism. Reflecting on your life priorities if you have a financial setback. Reconnecting to your parental love when confronted with your teenage daughters plan for Saturday night. This is all good, when it connects you to your inner truth and you do not constantly censor real feelings.

And there is the negative side of “perception is reality”, using it to manipulate others. Sharing “perception” to make people feel inferior, insufficient and bad – without a real engagement for their well-being and improvement. When the feedback is all about labelling, interpreting and judging someone, without opening a good conversation on how things should change. If you ever come across such behaviour, and you feel disempowered through it, I recommend the “SBI feedback tool” from the “Center for Creative Leadership”. I learned about it in November 2013 during the “Leadership at the Peak” training and I am applying it since. With much effect for myself and people I want to engage with on their performance or behavior, with whom I want to truly connect for new outcomes. (This is an approach with which you can transform behavior, relationships and results in a fundamental way. This is not a negotiation tool.) This is how CCL describes the technique:

“Situation. describe the situation where the observed behaviour occured. The more specific you can be about where and when it occurred, the better.
Behaviour: Help the individual understand exactly the behaviour you’re talking about. Think of playing back a videotape (…) Do not talk about what you believe or assume the other person was thinking, or what is or her motivation was for the behaviour.

Avoid judgements here (…), just describe what you saw and heard

Impact. Share with the individual the impact of the behaviour on you and/or on others who were present. Impact is what you or others experienced, you’re now making that internal experience known to the individual. Avoid statements about the other person like “I felt you…” and instead focus on your reaction by saying, “I was frustrated/puzzled/appreciative…”*

It is brilliant. Instead of receiving a label of “you never listen to me”, you will hear: “yesterday, I wanted your perspective on my presentation flow. When I started, the phone rang and you picked it up without any hesitation or apology to me. In this moment, I felt very unimportant. Like I don’t matter to you.” Hearing that, you might feel defensive (“it was my boss/my husband/my daughter/the plumber”). Please don’t give into this defensiveness! Try this one: “I saw the number and I knew it was a very important call I have been waiting for the whole day. How do you want me to handle such a situation next time?” Now you are talking. Or you simply reflect on the effect you had on the person and you say “I am sorry. This is not how I want you to feel. You really matter to me. Will you accept my apologies? And how should I handle phone calls in the future?”

This is feedback that gets you on a positive trajectory of recognising for yourself what is happening, others to learn about it and ultimately creating a real learning curve for all. And if you want an even steeper learning curve for the people around you, you balance positive and “corrective” feedback in a proportion of 3:1.

Do you ever feel you have used feedback to manipulate others? Did you ever feel manipulated when you got feedback?

How often do you give positive feedback? Where are you on the 3:1 ratio?

How does the suggested 3-step approach feel to you? Are you prepared to try it?

*(c) 2013 Center for Creative Leadership. All rights reserved.