Your perception is your reality

browningyork Communication audiences, Education, Engagement, University

An image of bright red leaves against the blue sky

Thanks to Morwhenna for this beautiful autumn photo – www.morwhenna.com

One day some time ago when my daughter was much younger, we were discussing colours on the school run – to be more precise, we were discussing the colours of the autumn leaves that we kicked through on our way to the playground. Soggy weather had really highlighted the bright colours of the leaves and I commented that I liked the copper colour of some of them.

“There’s no such thing as copper colour, Mummy, they’re red,” she said.

“They don’t exactly look red to me or exactly brown either, I think they’re the colour of copper, the metal,” I replied (before talking about the colour copper turns when it’s exposed to oxygen – never let it be said that I miss an opportunity to be educational!).

Same leaves, different perspective.

New experiences

Yesterday I collected a prescription from the local chemist.

Not a big deal.

Except it was a big deal for me. It was the first time I had been into a commercial property since early March. Before I left home I felt nervous; on the way my husband was chatting to me but I wasn’t really listening because I was distracted about what was to come.

My main concern was that I no longer knew what I was supposed to do in the chemist. Of course, the reality was that a member of staff at the door directed me to follow the arrows round the shop to the prescription counter and everything went smoothly.

I am a responsible, capable person but somewhere along the way in the last few months I’ve lost confidence to do some of the things I used to take for granted. Aside from a few perspex screens and masks, the experience wasn’t that different to all the pre-covid times I collected prescriptions. But my concern beforehand was very real.

Same shop, different perspective.

Different perceptions
The reason I share this story here is to remind you to consider your colleagues’ perspectives as you begin to bring them back into your working environment.

We all have different perceptions of things, particularly now. It is important to be aware of this when you’re trying to communicate effectively. There is a core NLP principle that states ‘A person’s perception is their reality’ and I have often found this very useful to hold in mind during my career.

When you are trying to understand your potential audience and put yourself in their shoes, it is key to look for their perceptions and the effect they have. And as with my chemist example, you might find that people who appear on the surface to be confident and keen to return to the office have underlying concerns.

Data and feedback
Some years ago I was working with a university HR team, advising them on communication and engagement. Surveys and feedback from individuals were showing that academic staff in education and teaching roles felt that they were consistently passed over for promotion in favour of more research-focussed colleagues.

The data from promotion boards showed that there were in fact equal numbers of teaching and research staff being promoted to more senior roles. However, this made no difference to how the educators felt and to their levels of engagement with the university. This was a key issue to address at a time when the whole HE sector is rapidly changing and university staff need to be fully engaged.

Understanding these ‘on-the-ground’ perceptions – and not just looking at what the data said – was central to identifying suitable communication and engagement activities. We looked at ways to tell the stories of educators who were being promoted in a more high-profile way, both locally within Faculties and Schools and centrally within university-wide channels.

More important than ever
Right now it’s more important than ever to find out what your people are actually thinking and feeling. Don’t just look at the data or ‘factual’ evidence and assume everything will be OK. Just because you’ve set up hand cleansing stations on every floor, that doesn’t mean suddenly everyone will come skipping into the office.

What perceptions are currently creating the reality at your organisation? If you would like help finding out, please get in touch for a chat about how I can partner with you to carry out internal audience research.

Until next time
Sarah