Perception Blind Spots
A large part of my work involves reframing. That means I help people look at the same situation from a different perspective – one which enables them to feel as though they have a better handle on the situation. Whether this is achieved through Executive Coaching, a 360-debrief, or a Leadership Development workshop, the aim is to provide relief. Relief comes from comprehending that we do not need to surrender who we are as individuals in order to overcome what appears to be an obstacle in our path to reach our set goal(s). Usually, that “obstacle” is another person, or group of individuals, who has made up his/her mind as to who you are, and may be casting aspersions. Welcome to the corporate sandbox.
In Sara Canaday’s book, You – According to Them, she addresses 9 types of individuals who reach a level of professional competence and then plateau. After a brief definition of each of the types, I shall provide you with an example from one of my previous clients. For the sake of anonymity, the subject names alternate between Jane and John – which do not reflect the actual name nor gender of the individuals.
9 Professional Plateaus
- “Don’t Fence Me in”
|PERCEPTION GAP +/-||Highly Productive & Innovative||Rebellious & Uncooperative|
This type strongly desires autonomy and does not like feeling smothered by authority. This type can be a leader or “solopreneur” working internally who does not cater to office politics. The dissent may come across as forceful and adversarial.
My example: Jane wanted to provide her client with the deliverables they expected. The client explicitly stated how the current software Jane’s company provided was not adequate. Despite not being an IT specialist, Jane was smart enough to create a rudimentary piece of software that services the client’s needs. The client was happy, but the CTO was outraged and reversed Jane’s efforts. Jane left the company.
Canaday’s advice: Begin to think about the structure and norms of business in a new way. You aren’t being forced to change; you are choosing to play the game with a different strategy. Remember that business is a game. Adopt the mindset that you have chosen to play the game.
- “Intellectual Snob”
|PERCEPTION GAP +/-||Intelligent & Well-Qualified||Condescending & Elitist|
This type comes across as overly critical. They have a naturally competitive spirit with those them deem as intellectual peers. Elaborate vocabulary and academic explanations may leave some as feeling inferior. Because of their confidence in what they know, they are often unaware of the tone they project.
My example: John received his degrees from highly reputable schools. As a self-made man, he worked to put himself through school and learned everything through true grit and effort. When he landed a position in his field, he did not believe in “dumbing down” his vocabulary, which led him to “shoot himself in the foot.” His style had reminded his colleagues of a previous leader who was condescending, and spoke in the same manner. They ostracized him; John left the company.
Canaday’s advice: Temper your bold confidence and strong opinions with a little finesse. Pay close attention to your word choice so you don’t inadvertently undermine your own efforts.
- “Frozen Compass”
|PERCEPTION GAP +/-||Decisive & Candid||Abrupt & Insensitive|
This type has just one gear: their natural style. There is no adaptation, despite the setting or individuals involved. This behavior displays lack of what is known as self-regulation. When the person with whom you interact is not the same type of individual you are normally accustomed to, behavior may need to change or perception of performance may be low.
My example: Despite the Ground Rules of the company to put away Social Media during meetings, Jane continued to pick up her cell phone, check messages, and text. She appeared to be able to still hear the content presented, but she remained unfazed when her much older colleague openly declared (as an indirect message to her) that he felt texting during a meeting was a sign of disrespect. Jane remained oblivious to how her credibility took a dip; HR made a note of her behavior.
Canaday’s advice: Neither approach is wrong; the problem lies with the inability to change in certain settings. Unfortunately, they are so comfortable following the same path that has always worked for them that they don’t recognize the roadblock. Be more aware of your own behaviors and those of the people around you.
- “Dust in My Wind”
|PERCEPTION GAP +/-||Extremely Energetic & Driven||Relentless & Unrealistic|
This type tends to work at high volacity. They work incredibly long hours, and send/answer emails in the middle of the night and weekends. Colleagues feel inadequate and/or defensive about not measuring-up or following suit.
My example: John is a self-declared workaholic. He gets more pride in his work by demonstrating his commitment to get tasks done. While he doesn’t expect others on his team to behave in the same fashion, the team became resentful of feeling the need to keep up with his pace. One time, while they were taking a break to play ping pong, John walked by, and they immediately ended their game to go back to work.
Canaday’s advice: Successful teamwork requires being ready to “merge”—without running everyone else off the road. Show your human side. Divert some of your abundant energy into a different direction.
- “No Crying in Baseball”
|PERCEPTION GAP +/-||Composed & Steady||Robotic & Indifferent|
This type does not like to show too much emotion, especially tears, at work.
My example: Jane is a high-performer. She claims to have no time for depressing stories. Her feeling is that life happens, and one needs to just get over it. So, when a colleague came to her office to relate a personal incident, Jane literally picked up the box of tissues and threw it into the kitchenette, telling the colleague to dry up her tears elsewhere because that was not what her office was for.
Canaday’s advice: Remind yourself that outdated thought processes need to be upgraded, just like old technology.
- “Safety Patrol”
|PERCEPTION GAP +/-||Methodical & Compliant||Inflexible & Overly Cautious|
This type believes they are providing a valuable service by playing Devil’s Advocate. By doing so, they see themselves as realistic and practical. Their skill is in identifying problems and determining the most efficient solution.
My example: John is a system thinker who often had great solutions. He felt he was even better at contributing value when he took his colleagues’ ideas to the next iteration or level. He considered this teamwork. Unfortunately, his colleagues did not see it that way. They felt he was constantly “one-upping” them. He was awash in a sea of resentment.
Canaday’s advice: Build relationships. Unleash the kinder gentler you. Remember timing, delivery, and tone. Help others think critically before advising.
- “Faulty Volume Control”
|PERCEPTION GAP +/-||Too Low: Understated & Humble
Too High: Assertive & Enthusiastic
|Too Low: Bland & Forgettable
Too High: Self-Serving & Inappropriate
This type either doesn’t believe in self-promotion and loses out on opportunities or overly self-promotes and comes across as a braggart. This is a stereotype that has become somewhat of a norm, when it comes to gender. Many women expect to be noticed for the excellent work they do, while many men will clamor attention to themselves, whether they perform excellent work or not (or none). When the behavior is reversed, the negative judgment comes across strong.
- “Passion Pistol”
|PERCEPTION GAP +/-||Spirited & Passionate||Intense & Overzealous|
This type has unbridled exuberance might be diminishing their leadership presence. Enthusiasm is their trademark. They feel it shows they have a zest for the life and work that they lead.
My example: John would enter the workplace each morning full of energy. He was a former pro-tennis player, so athleticism and early morning hours were a core part of how he would show up to the office. Each day he came in, he would burst out with a loud, “Good Morning!” expecting others to appreciate his vigor. His boss had a private meeting with him and told him to take it down several notches and not be so intense. John felt disengaged, wondering how he could still be who he is and fit in.
Canaday’s advice: Just use that passion more strategically. Pay attention to how your enthusiasm is perceived in different settings, and use that feedback to adjust your behavior for better results. Being more aware will help you apply your enthusiasm appropriately and minimize misfires.
- “Perpetual Doer”
|PERCEPTION GAP +/-||Reliable & High Performing||One-Dimensional & Over-Functioning|
This type is the kind which loves to dive into the details meticulously, yet struggles to delegate and develop. In an effort to get everything done, they may come across as anxious to finalize the minutia.
My example: Jane was the best at Project Management in her division. She was the most qualified, the most educated, and the hardest worker. And, she drove everyone who worked with her nuts. Her direct report couldn’t figure out Jane’s filing system because Jane would put folders inside of folders, insides of another set of folders. Jane’s behavior caught up to her when another colleague perceived Jane’s fastidious work habits as being incompatible with the office culture and recommended that she be let go.
Canaday’s advice: Take on stretch assignments. Seek out projects that will allow you to show off your leadership skills. Start delegating.
There are various ways of uncovering your blind spots. They all come from receiving feedback from those around you. While Behavioral Science tools are usually quite useful in determining your preferred type, some people become bothered at the prospect of being placed into a category or “box.” Canaday’s categorization doesn’t necessarily relegate you to just one type; and, if you self-identify with one type more than the others, then it may be a useful exercise to try and modify some of your behaviors to expand your “personal market value.” Perception analysis does hold the key to enhancing this.
Is it a Roar? Or, is it a Meow with a megaphone?
Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Global Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, and is the founder of Corporate Looking Glass, LLC – a diverse consultancy of OD experts and strategic thinking partners. We increase retention. Visit CorporateLookingGlass.com.
© Rossina Gil, 2015