Your Personal Brand When Perception Trumps Reality

Kevin P. Dincher

Recently one of my clients, the CEO of a small but locally prominent company, made a series of unpopular decisions that resulted in a crisis that put him and his company in the local headlines. When I talked with him about it, he said that the decisions, although controversial, spoke to his employees and to the larger community of his commitment to honesty and integrity. Having read nearly 500 online responses to the news articles, I told him that word-of-mouth was saying exactly the opposite: that many thought he was disingenuous, hypocritical and lacking integrity. I was surprised when he said that he had not even read the news articles much less the responses. I had thought he was savvy enough to know that perception trumps reality and that it was important to know what people were saying about him. Instead, he railed against the injustice of being the victim of people’s misperceptions.

Like it or not, perception is more powerful than reality. Others develop their image of you only partly from facts and information. Their worldviews, their motivations, their experiences and what the people they trust are saying all shape the way they see you. Being aware of this has always been important for managing your personal brand—but it has become critically important in today’s always-connected world where people are constantly sharing the perceptions and opinions online.

How then do you succeed in managing your personal brand in a world where perception trumps reality?

Stop Fighting It. Begin by accepting that there is going to be a difference between how others see you and how you see yourself or want to be seen. That difference can be annoying and really eat at you. It is sometimes painful. Often, it does feel like an injustice. It is, however, the way of the world and the way humans operate. You can’t change that—so you might as well start working with it.

Be Proactive. Make an ongoing investment in managing your brand. Make it easy for them to see you as you want to be seen. Be clear about who you are and how you want people to see you. Then communicate, communicate, communicate—proactively, transparently and regularly. In addition, don’t let misalignment between perceptions and your brand slide. You need to know what is being said about you, and you need to act when misperceptions occur. To most people, silence implies consent; therefore doing nothing damages your brand.

Build Relationships. Nurture true and deep relationships with good people. They will speak on your behalf when others’ perceptions don’t match what they know about you. Also, be flexible about whom you like and with whom you can work. Not everyone has to enter your inner circle of friendships, but building a broad range of professional relationships of people who get to know you helps align perceptions with the reality.

Pay Attention to the Politics. There are people in every organization—it doesn’t matter whether they are businesses, non-profits, schools, churches or social organizations—who play political games. The key players of political games are influencing the perception people have of you. You may choose not to engage in political games, but you ignore them to your own peril. Figure out who is playing what political games and for what purpose. Understanding the politics makes it easier for you to build the relationships. Understanding the political landscape also helps you to build the messaging you need to align perceptions more closely to the reality of who you are and what you are doing.

Do you have any other suggestions for managing your personal brand in a world where perception trumps reality?

Kevin Dincher is an organization development consultant, professional development coach and educator with 30 years of experience that includes not only OD consulting but also work in adult education,  counseling psychology and crisis management, program and operations management, and human resources.

LinkedIn: Kevin Dincher

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