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Perception is Reality (For the Perceiver)

The Relationship Model

Have you ever had the experience of your Board being very divided on an issue because the members couldn’t agree on the truth about something? It happens particularly often in matters where someone’s personal behaviour is part of the issue. What is reality? The perceptions vary among the Board members, so it is very difficult to know what is reality.

For example, your CEO or one of your own Board members may have been accused of some wrongdoing, and the perception “out there” is that there is “some truth to the rumor”. What action should the Board take? Shall the Board take some disciplinary action, because the person is tainted by what people think is true? Or should the Board defend the person and try to change what you consider to be a misperception?

“Perception is reality” is a very common saying, which if taken literally can do a lot of damage, even though there is certainly much truth in the saying.

What it really means is that when someone perceives someone else to be untrustworthy, lazy, disorganized or to have committed some wrongful act, it may just as well be true. That’s because it is very difficult to change the perception that some people hold even though you know that reality is not the same as the perception of it.

It is more accurate to say, “Perception is reality for the perceiver.” When we take that view, we can take the important step necessary to change the misperception to a correct perception.

At the Board level we cannot afford to assume that what we perceive to be true is in fact true. The key, of course, lies in the words “in fact”.

When perceptions vary among Board members on an issue of importance, such as where the Board has to make a decision that will affect the organization or its people, it is vital to relationships and to the Board’s integrity (and liability) that you make your decision on the basis of facts, not perceptions. It is grossly unfair to risk or sacrifice a person’s career or reputation on the basis of perception that has not been put to the test of investigation.

Perception may not be reality. The task of the Board may be to work at changing the misperception instead of acquiescing to it by assuming that it might as well be true if people think it is. When perceptions vary on an important issue, the Board must get ready for some hard work. Sadly, it’s much easer to accept a misperception than to change it, but the Board that has integrity will take the more challenging path.

Les Stahlke, President/CEO
GovernanceMatters.com Inc.