You're Not Lazy, But Your Manager Thinks You Are - A Guide to Changing How People Perceive You
Perception is reality. You can rail against the unfairness of how others perceive you, or you can work to change that perception.
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When you're dealing with numbers and formula, there are right answers. When you're dealing with people, there are right answers for each person.
Each of us perceives the world in our own biased way.
This means that your view of the world is different from other people's. I think we all know this, yet it's hard to wrap our brain around the consequences of this fact.
Obviously, we know that means that we each have different political opinions, or different opinions on the best sports player.
But it also means that we view other people's actions through the lens of our value system, and our history. And our view of other people's actions is just as much of an opinion as who we think the best sports player is.
Are you wrong about what the best sports player is? I hope you recognize that it's an opinion.
Are you wrong about your co-worker being lazy? It's an opinion as well. It's your perception of their work, not a fact.
How everyone interprets the world is the truth in their world. Can someone tell you that you're wrong to think that your co-worker is lazy? No, because that's the way you feel. You created that interpretation on everything you've seen, and your opinions of how lazy people operate.
How can someone convince you otherwise? They would need to change what you see from your co-worker. They can't change your interpretation of events. Instead, they need to change the events themselves so that you interpret things differently.
This is true at work, and at home.
Here's a classic situation.
The husband says, "I feel like you care more about work than about me."
The wife responds, "You're wrong, I care more about you."
Was the husband wrong? No, that's how they feel.
Was the wife wrong? No, that's how they feel.
What's the reality? The reality is that the husband feels like their wife doesn't care. How can the wife fix that? Can they change their husband's feelings by saying that they're wrong? Obviously not.
The way to fix it is to change what they see / hear, so that the husband interprets the situation differently.
At work, your manager says, "I feel like your work output is low."
You immediately think, "But you're so wrong! I get a ton done!"
Do you think that response would create the right type of reaction? I think it's obvious that it won't be helpful, yet I heard it all the time.
Will your manager's opinion be changed by simply telling them that they're wrong? Certainly not. You need to address what lead to that conclusion by the manager, and address the perception.
I wouldn't necessarily mean working more / harder. It would be about directly addressing how the perception was reached, and how to influence that perception.
Operations and team perception
Sherri managed a high operational load team. The team had complex systems, high customer usage, and regularly had operational tickets related to various systems failing. Sherri was well known for being excellent at dealing with high severity events. The team had a fantastic alarm setup which identified outages quickly, and Sherri would hop onto calls, spin up the various ops teams to help handle the next emergency. She often handled tickets on the weekends, at 2am, on holidays. No one would want to be the manager of that team, as the personal load on that leader was high. Their team was keeping their head above water, in large part due to the heroics of their manager. They still managed to hit most of their feature launch dates, amid the high operations storm.
When Sherri was discussed in the "how much of a raise should we give people" meetings, it came down to a debate on perception.
Some leaders viewed her as an indispensable hero. She was a leader in an incredibly challenging space. Directly in the line of fire for most operational events, she'd kept her team from having high turnover. She was deeply technical, and often handled things herself. She kept all projects on track by ensuring her team also completed the necessary feature work. She deserved a huge raise.
Other leaders viewed her as a hacker. She only had to do heroics because she hadn't managed to address the operational issues in her space. She had been there for years, but the situation was no better than when she joined. She was patching things when she should be looking at root causes. She wasn't making the hard decisions to postpone feature work, which lead to the continued poor operational situation. The team probably needs a new leader.
Which is right? Well, there is no right. Sherri did indeed go out of her way to help. She was also solving operational problems quickly and professionally. However, she also should have made progress on improving their operational situation. She should have pushed back on the roadmap for her team until she got things under control.
The opposite comes up with low operations teams.
Some leaders view those teams as easy teams. They have clean roadmaps, and their leaders work 9-5. These are places for people to rest, not grow their careers.
Other leaders view those teams as well managed. They have low operations because their managers focused on preventative rather than reactive measures. These leaders should be rewarded for their diligence.
Which is true? Often either or both is true. Some teams are easier to have low operations loads. Some leaders are excellent at preventing issues. It's hard to tell what the root cause is for a calm team.