When Perception Determines Reception
Recently, I had a conversation with a friend about being a cop and how, even after years of being retired, I can’t completely “turn it off” when I’m in a public or even a private setting.
As a law enforcement officer and detective I have spent hundreds of hours studying people, human behavior reading books and taking specialized classes to learn, what makes them tick… How they respond in given situations…What their responses indicate… etc.
I can watch someone’s eyes and know when they are creating details in their story that never happened or if they are recalling events that they personally observed… I can listen to verbal indicators (even specific word uses) to assess when someone is uncomfortable and trying to buy time to think of a way to paint the story differently and/or lie to me before they even tell the lie… I can listen to their breathing and vocal fluctuation, I can watch body language and tell more about what they are truly feeling (or hiding) than their words even indicate… Training has helped me to understand some of the more intricate details of human behavior, but nearly all of us do this on some scale naturally.
Our perception of people is determined within seconds of meeting them…and that perception becomes more and more solidified and increasingly more understood as we grow and spend more time with those people.
Now here’s the deal…Sometimes, the perception that people have of us is NOT what we would like to convey… At times we are portraying an image that is contrary to how we would hope that we are perceived. When this is the case, one of two things usually happens… Our pride causes us to simply go into a state of denial… or humility recognizes that, somewhere along the line, your actions have caused people to misperceive your intent… How people view you, whether it’s accurate or inaccurate is important, because something about your actions or how you have carried yourself has painted that perception in their mind… Your actions have determined a reaction… Their perception ultimately determines how they view and receive you!
After I was attacked on duty and an attempt on my life was made I went through an incredible time of recalibration… I assessed and reassessed many things about my life, character, and how I was perceived. One day, my pastor’s daughter came up to me and said, “Aaron, you are so different since the attack…” I asked her, “How so?”… Her response floored me… She said, “You’re approachable…you used to carry yourself differently and were actually kind of intimidating before…” I had NO IDEA that was how people had previously viewed me… ESPECIALLY MY PASTORS DAUGHTER! I went to family events with them, celebrated holidays with their family, the kids called me “Uncle Aaron…” but to her I was “Unapproachable…” Let me just say, that was NOT a win for me! It was NOT what I had hoped to convey! And until that moment, I was even unaware of it!
I could have handled it two ways… I could have made excuse… “Well, I’m a cop…I’ve been through a lot… I’m jaded… I gotta keep my edge…that’s just how I am…blah blah blah…” But where the rubber met the road, even with all the excuses I could come up with… It would NOT have changed her perception…and what she perceived was NOT what I desired to convey about myself… Her perception, if extended to other circumstances or if shared by other people, could absolutely effect my reception in an important or relative situation! Thank God for people who are willing to be honest with you when you ask them the question “Who do men say I am…”
It was her honesty that has helped me to remain cognizant of what I am conveying with both my verbal and non-verbal que’s…and it IS a discipline!
That was a long intro to set up what I am about to address. What people perceive about you can ultimately affect you! Whether it be a friend, a family member, a business associate, a professional, or an enemy! It is important to understand what messages are you sending to people? Is what you are conveying or NOT conveying influencing your progress with people or even God? Are there things or habits in or about your personality that are setting you up for a relational failure in the future? Who’s watching you? Who’s making perceptions about you…? The answer to the last two questions is EVERYONE!
I spoke with someone very very close to me a few years ago about this very subject and his answer to me, when I pointed out some of what I’m about to say was, “Aaron, I never even realized that I was doing that or that it was perceived that way…” That perspective alone is the catalyst for why I am writing this. I am writing this for those who have never been confronted with it or never really considered how their daily actions and habits may influence how they are received and ultimately could cost them influence with people or even progress in life!
So here are a few key points to consider:
#1 Shut up and listen- I will admit that this is one area that I STILL have to struggle with and why I will list it first! When you interrupt someone who is expressing a thought it sends several messages. A) That you don’t value what they are saying enough to listen. B) That what you have to say is MORE important to you than what they are saying. C) That you do not respect them enough to hear them out… etc.
Think about it, Would you interrupt the president if he was sharing some very important message with you? (Some of us might…HA!) But, in all reality, we are more likely to listen when we are in the presence of someone that we respect and whose words we value… When we talk over others and don’t wait our turn, we lose influence with those people as they perceive that we do not respect or value them. As a result, our actions effect their reception of us. I am one who immediately shuts down when I realize that someone is not listening… I won’t waste my breath on people who don’t care to listen… (How ironic that I am also the one who has to discipline myself to not interrupt huh?)
I will also point out that it is nearly equally as bad to disconnect and not listen to what someone is saying because we are so concentrating on what WE are going to say next… So, even though your mouth may not interrupt their expression of thought, you’re body language WILL! Be aware of it… I read a quote today, “Practice giving people your undivided attention. Very few things say “you’re a nobody” like texting during a conversation…@Jeffrey_A_Smith” I like it, simple example with profound depth!
#2 Look people in the eyes- This simple lesson will send the message that you are connecting with them and that you care! Nothing sends the message that you are not listening or connecting as looking around when someone is talking to you… It is said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. I am convinced that you can tell more about a person by looking in their eyes than any other non-verbal indicator. You can learn SO much from people just by actually “seeing” them. Pain, fear, anger, love, passion are all conveyed through the eyes! Be intentional with people by practicing looking at their eyes… If you are one who has a problem with #1 above, intentionally looking in the eyes of a person when they talk (not in a creepy intimidating way, just in a proactive attempt to pay attention) will send a message that you genuinely care and respect what they are saying. And with most people, knowing that they are respected, PARTICULARLY when you are in a position of authority gives deep perspective to them about your character. Not to mention, the influence that you may have in a position of authority to influence someone’s life or even be instrumental in being a part of it changing could be determined solely on whether or not you convey that they are important to you… and for those who practice this with EVERYONE, you never know when you may be talking to someone who God sent along to just “bless you…” and your response to them could make or break that “blessing”. (Promotion, job opportunity, investor…name it… When God wants to bless you, He will often send someone into your life to do it… Don’t screw it up for yourself with a lack of discipline in relational/social etiquette.)
#3 Don’t think too highly of yourself- The bible says that Pride comes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall. Regardless of who you are, or what your position is, deal with each person as an individual worthy of respect. If you are a Pastor, think about the model that Jesus set for leadership. The night before He was about to be betrayed by a friend and give his life, he knelt down and humbly washed the feet of the disciples that he had spent years walking with and mentoring… So many of us have the mindset, “I’ve worked so hard to be elevated to the position that I am, I deserve…(fill in the blank)” but that’s not what Jesus was conveying. Humility is a characteristic that speaks VOLUMES about a person…So does pride… for those who call themselves Christians, following Christ’s model should be our pursuit…
A friend of mine once told me, “Aaron, the second you begin to believe your own hype, you are on your way out…” I realize that this goes completely against many of the sales seminars that so many of us have attended… It contradicts the “establish dominance” principles and the learned non-verbal techniques/manipulations like making sure you extend your hand with your palm angled toward the floor to force the person shaking your hand into a non-cognizant position of submission to your authority (which by the way REALLY TICKS ME OFF WHEN A PREACHER DOES IT! Because I know what they are doing and it reveals so much to me about their heart!). Ultimately, that “establish dominance” principle has no place in the church or in our lives (for the most part)…Most of the time it is rooted in pride and pride is something that comes all too naturally to too many of us…it’s a part of our human nature and the way that we are wired… and, if it is, it is also an area that should be kept under close personal scrutiny. “Pride” is another area that I personally have had to be VERY proactive myself in weeding out of my own heart… (and I still have some work to do…)
#4 Do what you say- Integrity is a HUGE deal to God…It’s also a HUGE deal to people. When we say the words, “I will…(fill in the blank)” you are literally saying, “I submit my will” or “it is my will” to do what we have agreed to in this conversation (whatever that may be)…The bible says, “You don’t have to make an oath with people, but if you are a Christian, then let your Yes mean YES and your No mean NO! It also goes on to say that your word IS your oath! Yet, integrity is seemingly SO lacking in the church on so many levels! Christians often have the reputation of doing sub par work and expect that it be accepted because they put a little ichthus fish on their business card and are working for another Christian! They feel that they can say what they want and not follow through and should simply be given a pass because “as Christians we are not supposed to keep a record of wrong…” or “we are supposed to forgive 70 x 7 times a day”… the problem with that is, they are manipulating people and misrepresenting God by making excuses and using scriptures like that to defend a lack of integrity! God DOES care! And so do people! If you don’t, then you will find yourself lacking in relationships and promotion… Because, ultimately, you will reap what you sow…Seed, Time and Harvest is not only a spiritual law, it is a physical one…
#5 Be on time- I started to tie this into #4 but I think it merits it’s own section. Everything that was stated in #4 applies to #5 but this is the single MOST abused area where I have observed a lack of discipline in the church and amongst Christians…Quite frankly, it is just disrespectful to the people left “waiting” for you…
Time is the single most valuable resource in anyone’s life. How they use it or misuse it can be instrumental or detrimental as it pertains to desired outcomes or fulfilling destiny. It is a given that everyone is late sometime…There are accidents on the freeway and unforeseeable’s that can be encountered unexpectedly…BUT, for too many of us, tardiness is simply a lifestyle. The message that is being sent, whether intentional or not is, “My time is more important than your time”…or “I’m more important than the plans that I made with you, YOU can wait until I get there…” I do realize that sometimes this is NOT the heart of the person who is repeatedly late, but it IS the message that is being sent and received whether they want it to be or not…(back to perception determines reception) Particularly regarding those who place significant value on their own time.
I heard a quote this past week that really hit me, “I have yet to meet a successful person who was not very meticulous about their time and did not want to waste it… @drDaveMartin” Ultimately, EVERY relationship that I have ever had that has been notoriously late, WERE capable of being on time. (sadly, a HUGE majority of my “friends” have fit into this category very comfortably). They just chose to be late when it was convenient for them to be so… If they were meeting someone who they respected, they’d be on time… If they were going to experience some sort of loss if they were not on time, they’d be on time… If they stood to benefit from punctuality, they’d be on time… BUT, when it was “just Aaron…” that was the message that I received… “It’s just Aaron…” (20 min, 30 min, 45 min, 60 min….120 min! and I’m sitting around twiddling my thumbs during a time that I could have placed efforts elsewhere…) and ultimately, ended up resenting them for taking advantage of my time when I respected theirs enough to be there at the predetermined time…or early…
I’ve heard it said that, “What you tolerate, you authorize to exist…” so maybe I have unknowingly played a part in one of my own greatest frustrations with others by not being more confrontational… Kind of a catch 22 I think… For obvious reasons…
The bible says to be faithful in the little things…Although, I personally consider words VERY BIG things…Many people do not… so, even if you don’t think that your words and integrity are a big deal, we are still to be faithful in the “little things”… Time (even if it is not a big deal to you) is a big deal to many people and whether or not you send the message that you respect and appreciate another’s time can absolutely contribute to your reputation and future successes. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be thought of as “the guy whose word was worthless”… that kind of reputation could carry dire consequence in the arena of life and your influence with people.…
It is a given that most all of what was written above is considered “common courtesy”… Much of it we have been taught since we were little children, “don’t interrupt, listen when people are talking, don’t be cocky, tell the truth…” but somewhere along the road, as adults, the lines get skewed and we forget the simple lessons like the golden rule “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you…”
How you treat others DOES matter! And if it doesn’t, it should! Even recently, I have been attempting to refine my own focus by being very intentional in how I treat and respond to others and their needs. For me, sometimes it means hugging the person whose personality is like sand paper to me (very abrasive). Sometimes it has meant, listening to people talk, even when what they were talking about was bordering on nonsensical. Sometimes it has meant just loving on someone who needed it even when I didn’t feel like it… I believe it’s what Jesus would do… So, I’m trying… slow forward progress is better than no progress, right?
Ultimately, we prioritize what is important to us…
So, to end this chapter, I will leave you with one of my most beloved one-liners: Do what’s right…Not because it’s easier, or more convenient… But because it’s right…
Simple adjustments can change your life!
If you can dig it, Say “Word”!