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Perception vs. Reality in the Workplace

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Adam is the jester of the office. He’s the life of all parties and picnics, which aren’t the same without him. But ask his managers about his performance, and they may not have much to say. That doesn’t mean Adam is not a good performer. It’s just this image or perception that’s been created in the minds of his colleagues. So it may not come as a surprise to many when Adam is overlooked for a promotion. Like it or not, perception counts in the workplace, so make it work in your favor.

Perception Matters

Perceptions are formed by a combination of observations that others make. They often include the opinions of a varied set of people -- who may have varying levels of information about the situation or person. Although it's comforting to believe that perceptions aren’t as important as the work you do, it’s a hard reality that perceptions do matter. While no one can prevent people from having opinions that lead to perceptions, it's savvy to manage our workplace image to ensure that reality and perception are as closely linked as possible.

Manage Your Image

Managing your image at work can help you create a perception that closely matches the reality. Try these strategies: Choose your words carefully. It’s essential to choose words and phrases that are empowering for those around you; it also helps to have the right mix of wit, humor, clarity and confidence to effectively engage with others. Stick to commitments and deadlines. A single delayed deliverable can form the image of a tardy and irresponsible person. Dress for the job you want -- it's always better to overdress than underdress. Finally, treat others with respect. Humans are a sensitive species. Treat someone well and they will go the extra mile. But if a person feels he’s being undermined and disrespected, he will not forgive easily, and this could lead to spoiling your working relationship forever.

Walk the Talk

Managers, peers and your team will not take you seriously if you don’t practice what you preach. Colleagues are smart enough to sense hypocritical behavior and don't take to it very kindly. So getting the basics right is important -- honesty, fairness, treating others with respect are basics that make the difference.


No doubt, it requires effort to ensure that colleagues know the real you, but it's worth it. Asking colleagues for feedback can open up avenues as you explore the gap between the perception and reality of who you are in the workplace. Strive to be a role model: It's the best way to ensure that people's perception of you matches the reality.


Manasi Bhat is a senior human resource professional with eight years of experience including heading and managing the HR department for a multinational organization. She received a SPHR (Senior Professional in Human Resources) from the Human Resource Certification Institute.

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