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Shaping Perception in the Art of Communication, Part 3

By Terri Davis, Director of Client Relations
And Tom Brennan, Senior Writer

Part 3: Managing Perception when the Negative Arises

In Part 1 of this blog series, I made a case for deliberately managing perception in interactions — between recruiter and hiring manager, vendor and customer, and others. In any interaction each party comes away with a perception of the other as well as of the relationship, the outcome and more. In Part 2 I outlined a strategy for managing perception to ensure your interactions result in the kind of perception you want. To see some examples of how NOT to manage interactions, see Nicole Cox’s blog series on the Top Ten Mistakes Hiring Managers and Candidates Make During the Courtship Period.

Like it or not, a lot of our interactions involve negative situations, such as resolving a disagreement or critiquing performance. Many of us are not comfortable in these interactions, whether we’re delivering or receiving the negative. However, managing perception may be even more important in these kinds of interactions than in the positive ones. In How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships That Really Work, Shari Harley stresses the importance of establishing direct, candid relationships BEFORE those situations come up.

According to Harley, your partners “can work with you, around you, or against you.” Which one applies to you? It depends on your relationships, and communication is an important part of any relationship. In Part 1 I stated that effective communication is the result of deliberate acts. Harley offers four steps — acts — to lay the groundwork for direct and candid relationships. And that should make it easier to handle interactions involving the negative.

(Per)Mission: Possible

Even when things are spelled out in a job description or service agreement, it’s worth spending a few minutes with the relationship partner to ensure both sides are on the same page. Three of the steps probably are familiar to you: clarify the (1) goals, (2) rolesand (3) expectations. The fourth however, is a little unique, so I’d like to spend some time with it: (4)permission to provide feedback.

Harley recommends that we explicitly give and request permission to provide feedback, even if it is negative. In our culture we tend to walk on eggshells, keeping negative feedback to ourselves. That may be courteous, but is it helpful? David Harder, founder of Inspired Work, Inc. and a long-time friend of DT, says “Irritation is a great motivator for change.” Of course, neither David nor I advocate that you deliberately irritate your colleagues or clients (save it for your kids!).

Give It? Get It? Good.

Early in any relationship, then, let the other person know you value their feedback. You might say to a client, “Let me be candid and say that there are going to be challenges along the way. We’re not perfect. But as long as you provide me with feedback, we should work well together.”

At the same time, ask the other person for permission to provide feedback. You might tell a direct report, “I know there will be positives and negatives as our relationship moves forward. Do I have your permission to give you feedback, even when it is negative?” This might take a direct report by surprise; as the boss, you have that authority, but consider the direct report’s perception after you’ve asked permission.

Crack-a-Lackin’ Eggshells

There always will be those who take offense to feedback, but most people appreciate it. Feedback is the data we need to “course-correct” and guide our careers, our business results and our lives. It’s also like food for relationships: healthy input means healthy relationships. You can walk on eggshells, but if you never crack any, you’ll never enjoy an omelet!

In my next post I will perform some daring acts of pretzel logic and explore how to turn negatives into options.

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One Response to “Shaping Perception in the Art of Communication, Part 3”

  1. April 09, 2013 at 7:39 am, Shaping Perception in the Art of Communication, Part 2 | Blog | Decision Toolbox said:

    […] Part 3 I’ll take on the challenge of managing perception when there are negative issues involved. […]


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