It was his perception that caused the outburst. "Why aren't there any managers at these sessions? Why aren't they required to attend, too?" he challenged. Hired to provide workshops on building trust in a workplace lacking it, I answered his question to the extent I could during that first session, "It's my understanding that everyone is attending," I offered. "But let me find out for sure and get back to you."
Confirming at the break that indeed, everyone on staff would be attending one of nine scheduled sessions, he balked. "Yeah, that's what they'll tell you," his anger perceptible through his tone, "but I haven't ever seen it."
By the end of the week, he was not the only staff member posing the question. It seemed if a direct supervisor wasn't in the same session as their staff, the perception was she never attended.
Management guru, Peter Drucker offers this explanation: "We perceive, as a rule, what we expect to perceive. We see largely what we expect to see, and we hear largely what we expect to hear. The unexpected is usually not received at all." In this case, the unexpected for them was management would also be learning trust building principles.
In twenty years in management, I've met too many people operating like these workshop attendees. They allow perceptions of reality to "be" their reality. They accept rumors as fact, carry baggage from work relationships passed, and harbor misconceptions now believed as truth.
These reality-challenged individuals stay cemented in their outmoded thinking and reactive behaviors. They're as stuck as a mouse in a glue trap, believing that what was the reality still is. They cling to their anger, frustrations, and feelings of past betrayal like a badge of honor. Their smoldering resentments spark new ones, causing them to miss out on building new relationships, grasping new opportunities, or seeing new viewpoints.
While our thoughts may determine what we perceive the reality to be, people who are winning at working don't stop there. They check the facts. They validate their assumptions. They challenge their thinking. And in this situation, people who are winning at working would ask the boss their question, not me.
Real is real. That's what people who are winning at working understand. They recognize that their thoughts, perceptions, and beliefs can, at times, create faulty logic, misperceptions, inaccuracies, and "their" own version of reality. They know believing the world is flat doesn't make it flat.
It's like the story attributed to Lincoln. One day, frustrated by his aid's faulty logic, Abraham Lincoln asked his staff member, "How many legs does a cow have?" "Well, four of course," the man answered. "Now" said Lincoln, "if the cow's tail is called a leg, how many legs does the cow have?" "Five," answered the aid. "No," said Lincoln. "Simply calling it a leg doesn't make it a leg." And simply thinking something is true doesn't make it true.
Want to be winning at working? Get the facts.
(c) 2008 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved. Author of Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way (Capital Books; January 2008). Host of "Work Matters with Nan Russell" weekly on webtalkradio.net. Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. Sign up to receive Nan's "Winning at Working" tips and insights at www.nanrussell.com
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