If you have ever worked in the customer service side of business, you soon realize that perception is reality. My years in the restaurant and insurance industry have shown me that what the server or agent intended to convey is frequently not what was perceived by the customer. Someone being rude is truly in the eyes of the beholder. “Your rude” and “my rude” may be on two opposing ends of the spectrum; especially if I’m 70 and you are 18. Or if I’m from Saudi Arabia and you are from Canada. We are all walking around with our own frame of reference.
As a restaurant manager, I had to bring it to the attention of the teenaged server that even if she hadn’t slammed the plates on the table, the customer perceived that she had. That crossing her arms and glaring at the customer could be perceived as rude. Intended or not, it’s what the customer felt and noticed, from their point of view.
How many times has your child, coworker or spouse told you that, “So and so yelled at me”? Do your really think they yelled? I think of yelling as a raised voice; like being at a football game and yelling, “Go Gators”. I find that in normal everyday living (outside of sporting events) most people don’t yell. When we are on the defensive, feel attacked or are being criticized, suddenly we are being yelled at. Our perception morphed.
Here are some steps to make sure you are keeping your perception in check:
1. Language. Check your body language. Are your arms crossed? Scowl on your face? Hands on your hips? Limp handshake? These can erode the authenticity of your message. Whether defensive or offensive your body is speaking for you. Eye contact, slight smile and open arms and hands can generate trust. Pay attention to what your body is saying.
2. Erasers. When you use but, however and although while speaking with someone, you have erased the prior connection. “I love your dress but those shoes are too big.” You have forced the recipient to think about the shoes and the dress compliment is lost. “Nice job on the data analysis, however, it was two days late.” Your assistant is now demoralized. You are now being perceived as negative and insincere. Watch your erasers.
3. Volume. Keep tabs on the volume you are using when you speak. This is an issue I struggle with. I can come across as overbearing if I don’t keep it in check. Men in particular need to be careful as deeper voices tend to carry regardless of the volume. Mumbling can come across as having a lack of confidence or that you are hiding something. Modulate and speak clearly.
4. Audible. These are the noises that emanate that may be perceived but not the way you intended. Huff. Puff. Gasp. Sigh. Sometimes it can be involuntary. Is it a sigh of exasperation or sigh of relief? That is in the eye of the beholder. You might want to check your audibles.
5. Fonts. Every so often, I get an email message from someone in all caps. Why is this person yelling at me? Or I get an email with half the message bolded and underlined. I’m pretty sure that the sender doesn’t realize (most of the time) how it appears to the recipient. But I can tell you how I perceive it. You are either yelling at me, talking down to me, don’t know the first thing about writing or you have zero typing skills. Point being, there is no positive spin. Watch your fonts.
6. Dress. Think about how you dress. A study from Gille and Mittag, showed that the more provocative you dress, the more observers will describe you as less intelligent. If you have a big presentation, job interview or critical meeting, dress more conservatively and cover up your skin. I’m not suggesting a burka, but a suit with long sleeves will have an impact on perception. You will be perceived as more intelligent. Boost your reputation.
What do you do to influence perception?