I recently conducted a workshop on Accountability for a consulting firm and took a measurement to determine some of their thoughts on accountability. When asked how they thought they did personally holding themselves accountable on a scale of 1-10, they averaged a 9.56, with one person giving themselves an 11! When it came time to rank their coworkers for the same thing, the average quickly dropped to a 7.3.

I think this relates to a Guiding Principle of coaching which is “People live from their perceptions.”

Although I’ll admit a 7.3 is still a pretty high ranking, there were a few people who scored the team in the 3 or 4 range. My question is—what are those people experiencing that others are not?

What’s your perception?

The point is that we each have our own lens through which we see the world in front of us. We use our past experiences, both good and bad to develop our perception. Moreover, we judge the things that are happening around us through that perception. This is sometimes a good thing. It keeps us safe in the world. We know through observation or personal experience that when you touch a flame, it’s hot and it will burn your skin. So we are careful when we are stoking a fire or lighting a candle.

But sometimes this can get in our way. Our perceptions may not be accurate. What someone intended may not be the ungrateful, insensitive, rude response that we perceive. In fact, that perception gives a lot of power to the person we’ve placed it upon and can negatively affect our actions in response. For example, if we perceive that someone is not being held accountable for their deliverables on our team and we chalk that up to laziness, an uncaring attitude, and selfish behaviors, then our actions in response might be pretty negative. On the other hand, our actions might take a different turn if we inquired further with the teammate. We might discover that the deliverables had been changed, and he was taking full responsibility for not communicating in a timely manner.

Start with facts

I harp on several things with my clients about perceptions and communication. First, it is always good practice to start with factual statements and never opinions based on perceptions. I know it is sometimes hard to separate, but when you stick to the facts of a situation, the path forward can be determined much more quickly and clearly, and you won’t end up with egg on your face! Ask more questions instead of landing on judgments.

Ever had a perception situation that turned out to be inaccurate? I’d love to hear your story.

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