Which Perception Wins?

I encounter many people who reject or resist the idea that whenever people are involved, perception is reality. You know I love Broadway and there’s an insightful line in the show Come From Away. The plane people – all those people whose flights were diverted to Newfoundland – were being transported by bus to various locations, and the large numbers of Salvation Army volunteers were wearing their uniforms. 

One of the Salvation Army volunteers in uniform says, “We rarely use them, but everyone’s dusted off theirSalvation Army uniforms to welcome these people.” His perception – the uniforms were put on to welcome the guests. However, when the plane people see everyone in uniform says, “There are soldiers everywhere.” In the context of the song, this person is afraid of all the uniforms.

The thing is there’s no “right” answer to which perception is right or wins. The Salvation Army volunteers certainly intended to be welcoming, but the impact (albeit unintended) was something else to some of the plane people. As is typical in human interactions, there are many perceptions and the impacts are often unintended.

So what do we do with this you ask? How do we deal with situations when there’s no right answer and when different perceptions are the likely reality? Simple – you expand your vision beyond your own thoughts and perceptions. You also expand your empathy and compassion, as well as being more aware and thoughtful regarding potential unintended perceptions and impact.

I know, I know – this may take more time and it certainly takes more awareness and attention – but that’s what leadership is all about. And leadership is everyone’s responsibility and opportunity.

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