Your perception is your reality

browningyork Communication audiences, Education, Engagement, University

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

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

On the school run this morning, my daughter and I were discussing colours – to be more precise, we were discussing the colours of the autumn leaves that we kicked through on our way to the playground. The 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.

There is a radio advert running at the moment from Dulux, the paint company, where they talk about different perceptions of colour – yellow might say ‘bright and sunny’ to you, but your teenager will be horrified if you paint her room buttercup. Same colour, different perspective.

We all have different perceptions of things. 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.

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. These kinds of deep-rooted perceptions don’t change overnight, but unless you know they are there, you can’t begin to turn things around.

What perceptions are creating the reality at your organisation?

Until next time
Sarah