The 2nd most boring class I ever encounter in the various courses I have been on was one on “perception”. Indeed to this day, I can recall all the imperfections in the breeze block wall behind the person giving it. It was pretty brutal. The irony though is that years later looking back it was one of the most fundamentally useful things I ever learnt, even if at the time any concept of learning was lost in desire for it to end.

(For those curious on the most boring the hands down winner was a statistical guy proving that if death by horse kick in the Polish army was a Poisson distribution in 1900 the army would have been wiped out before WW1 – Don’t ask!)

“Our “reality” is clearly the truth

However “perception” is central to all human relationships as what we perceive we see is what forms our reality. Most arguments that arise are at the least compounded by this –“Our “reality” is clearly the truth so how can this person not see this! Indeed we often go beyond this and begin analysing their reluctance to agree with the obvious truth, assigning all sorts of motivations to them.  (If you don’t think this is true just ask yourself if you have ever looked at a negative email and tried to figure out why they phrased it exactly that way!)

Previous burns

All start-ups involve some degree of change and central to change is altering the perception of others. As an example, in one case a person seeking to deliver an innovative new physiotherapy approach was being greeted with close to hostility from a person whose help they needed within the Health Service. What on the surface looked like disinterested, dismissive and uncaring attitude turned completely on one question as the meeting was finishing. The reason emerged for the reaction – that person had direct personal experience of where that service was needed but had several times previously been burnt by others offering apparent “Solutions” but disappearing when things started getting real. In reality, they were as powerful an advocate as you could get- if they believed you.

Before you can influence people you need to understand their “reality”

One small question at the end takes a meeting where both sides would have walked away thinking negatively of the other to the start of a productive relationship. This is why perception matters – the ability to perceive how another might view a situation even at odds with your own beliefs. Before you can influence people you need to understand their “reality” and the secret methodology to do this is simply to ask them –  but with a disciple in your head driven by a curiosity to figure out not only what they think but why. In doing that the motivation must not be to help you point out why they are wrong but rather to show you understand their “perception”. It is amazing how often the path onward from there changes for both.