Perceptions are a funny thing. Everyone has them, and everyone is entitled to their perceptions. But as we all know, they can be incredibly difficult to work through as well.
This has come up for me in various jobs. The perceptions from coworkers that I am having too much fun and the conversations my managers have had with me about those complaints. But then I ask, “Am I getting my work done? Do you have a particular issue with my performance?” The answer is no, but that there is a perception that I’m just having too much fun. Well, my sincerest apologies to the rat who is trying to ruin my day, but I am one of the few blessed with the ability to slog away through a work day and make the best of it while I do!
We have all been hamstrung at some point in our lives by the false or unfair perceptions of others. And we know we do it ourselves, too. How often do we, based on some very cursory knowledge, make a judgment about someone else before we really know anything about them? And now those people are going to have to work twice as hard to overcome those perceptions as anyone else.
We see it in the workplace often. A new member joins the team, and the others are on their guard immediately. If she is too young or too old, they assume she won’t be able to perform the necessary functions. If she is too pretty or blonde then people assume she may not be smart enough. If she is overweight, they assume she might be too lazy. If she laughs too much then she’s annoying, but if she’s too somber then she is ruining their good time.
I’ve spent my whole life trying to overcome perceptions. When I was young, people in one circle thought I was silly and giddy, and were surprised to discover I was also an honors student. In other circles, some thought I was too studious to be any fun, and were surprised to find out how silly I can be when I’m relaxed. We put people into boxes, and it is stifling!
Before I worry about what the world is thinking of me, and how wrong they probably are, I should focus on my own ability to cast my perceptions onto someone. We all should. To ensure that everyone gets their chance to be themselves and become known before we start putting labels on them.
Some people are lazy, some people are boring, and some people aren’t very smart. There is no getting around that. But when we ascribe those labels to others before letting them prove themselves, we set ourselves up to be disappointed by them.
Which makes sense, because of course we don’t want to be wrong!