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Perception is Reality but NOT Necessarily the Truth

Usually when I say this to people, I am met with a confused look followed by the comment, "What is the difference? Reality and truth are the same thing, right?" Let's start with the definition of each word according to Merriam - Webster.

Reality - the state of having objective independent existence

Truth - being in accordance with the actual state of affairs

Perception - the attained awareness or understanding of

These are the denotations of the words but when we are communicating words also have connotation or meaning based on understanding or common usage. For example in the U.S., we use the hot to mean different things. The denotation of hot refers to temperature in reference to heat but hot can also refer to someone who is attractive or sexy. We also use hot to refer to something as stolen. As this is used across the our country, we understand that the definition of the word is relevant to the situation, object of reference and who is saying it. I think we can agree that there are many words we use that have many different meanings dependent on our attained awareness or understanding of the situation or in other words Perception.

The same can be said for all of our communication. In order to fully communicate, what is said and what is heard are both important. If there are several people in a room and someone says, "She is hot.", the response of the hearers will be based on their perception of the speaker's inflection, the temperature of the room, the person of reference plus more. The response of the individuals in the room will be based on their perception in the moment.

So the question becomes, Where does perception come from? When I ask this question to my clients, students, team members family etc., I usually get many initial responses like, experience, background, primary language, ethnic background, male or female and after much speculation and discussion we always get to the same answer... YOU!!!

In order for true communication to happen we must understand that perception is based on someone's reality but not necessarily the truth. If reality and truth were truly the same thing, the producers, directors and stars of reality television would have some serious difficulties. We must understand and embrace the idea that our personality, background, behavioral type, experiences, age and other outside factors affect what we say and hear as well as how we say and hear.

To effectively communicate with family, friends, team members and clients, it is important to understand not only our perception but also to try to understand the perception of those around us. The best place to start is with yourself. I always recommend that my clients find out about their own behavioral style and personality type. It is very important to understand why we do and say the things we do basically how do we process information in the world around us. Next it is important to explore how others operate in the same world and how they see us. To put this into perspective, I will share a little story about my husband and I that my kids laugh about all of the time.

Here it is... My husband and I have been married for 28 years, have traveled the world, raised 3 kids, have a great relationship and we can't hang a picture together. Yep we can't be in the same place at the same time to hang a picture. You see my husband in an engineer and while he does have a creative side, he is very linear and really sees things as right or wrong. There isn't much middle ground in his world. I on the other hand am an actress, director and theater teacher. Most of my world is middle ground and seeing things from many different angles. My husband is very organized and precise and I am very fly by the seat of my pants. Our very first serious argument in our marriage happened when we were ready to hang up some of our beautiful wedding pictures in our first apartment. I got out the pictures, hammer and nails and said, "Let's hang these up." Then I proceeded to to knock on the wall to find a stud to get started. In shock my husband jumped up and said let me help you then went to store to buy a stud finder, the string with the chalk on it, and picture nails. He told me to lay out the pictures on the floor in front of the wall the way I wanted to hang them. When he returned, he began measuring, finding the stud, drawing spots on the wall, rearranging the pictures until they were perfectly symmetrical. By the time he was actually ready to put the first nail in the wall, I wasn't in the room. My attention span and enthusiasm had been lost over an hour prior to that. I was so frustrated that a project that I thought should have taken 20 or 30 minutes had taken over 2 hours. The truth is that neither one of us was wrong in our approach but our perception of the situation and the project was very different. In his world the only way to do it was by following the process and in my world all I needed to do was find the stud and line up the other pictures based on where I put the first one. In a side note, for 26 years we never hung another picture together. I would lay them out on the floor the way I want them and then he would come along and hang them. Well up until about 2 years ago. We tried to hang a series of pictures in our hallway. After about 30 minutes, my daughter could see my stress level starting to rise and sent me away while she stayed to help her dad. We have made a lot of compromises throughout our marriage and usually understand the others perception but we definitely understand that sometimes we have to leave the other to do it their way and that is perfectly ok.

Remember that not everyone sees the world the way you do and it is very important to try to step into other's shoes occasionally in order to be sure that communication truly took place. There are many different behavioral and personality tests out there that can give you an overview of how people including yourself see and hear things. Taking the time to understand will not only help you in you personal communications but also in the business world too. It will open a whole new window to the way you perceive the world around you. Is the glass half full or half empty? The answer is yes. Perception is reality

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