Misperceptions abound. Humans are simple creatures. They can make quick judgments on little information as a way to manage complexity and simplify life. In doing so, people can come to incorrect conclusions, whether it be about your intentions or about a company product.
You can readily manage misperceptions to avoid false narratives of and stigmas on your reputation and your company’s reputation. Here are five skills to help you overcome misperceptions:
1. Use your emotional intelligence
If you feel something is amiss, reflect on that feeling. In having a conversation with a colleague or reporter, for example, did your stomach churn a little? Did you ask yourself, “What are they thinking?”
You have to be in tune to pick up on cues, whether it is a person’s choice of words or their tone. Don’t read into things or overanalyze things. But if you suddenly get a feeling that something is amiss, it might be worth looking into. Use your gut as a guide.
2. Be an investigator
Try to figure out what is amiss. To identify the source or the reason why you think something has gone awry, you have to investigate.
At what point did you start feeling things were off? Was it a word that was said? Did someone mention a name that you thought was odd in the context of your discussion? Was it a nonverbal cue to something you said?
Reflect on the moment that started to make you feel concerned that there may be a misperception. You may even have to research the Internet for something that might have been publicly shared by a news outlet or social media that could have influenced the other person.
Gather information, and think about the situation contextually and holistically to get to the bottom of the misperception.
3. Be savvy, and respond strategically
If you have thoroughly conducted your research to understand why there may be a misperception, you have the tools to address the misperception.
There are times when you may have to be direct with your response. You may have to say verbally or in writing, “There seems to be a misunderstanding of…” and then communicate the accurate position. There are times when you do not have to be so direct. To address the misunderstanding, respond by shifting your focus or using particular language that addresses the misperception.
Communicate the facts and start overcoming the misperception. Correcting misperceptions takes time. It may not happen instantly. It can take repeated attempts to ensure accurate perception. Think of it like marketing or branding. Brands, whether it is your personal brand or your company’s brand, take years to build and minutes to destroy. You have to take marketing-like steps to rebuild and regain public trust.
If you are working in an emerging space where widespread trust has yet to take hold, you have the opportunity to shape the field’s reputation. Handling something new, in particular, generates misperceptions. What you don’t know can cause fear and judgment. Be aware of how people are perceiving new ideas to futureproof and sustain the new area.
Your response should take an educational tone, not a defensive tone. Your ability to communicate hinges on your ability to clearly explain and simplify concepts. Maybe the misperception exists because what was being projected was (unnecessarily) complicated.
If you take an educational tone with your response, you avoid being accusatory. If you want to overcome misperceptions, you have to react with an approachable response to be able to influence the other party to believe in what you want them to believe.
You need to be respectful. You need to be factual. You need to show that you hear and understand the other party. With a disarming approach, you allow the other party to open up and listen to what you have to say. When people listen to you, they have the ability to believe you.
To navigate misperceptions, you need to have emotional intelligence and the skills to investigate, strategically respond, educate and influence. Develop these skills to curtail myths, and ensure the facts are communicated to the best of your ability.