Using perceptions to manage: What does this reveal about the manager?

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Today I continue my extended series on managers using perceptions to manage.  Have you ever had a manager who leads feedback with “There’s a perception that. . .”?  As in, “There’s a perception that your projects don’t come in on time.”  Or “There’s a perception that you don’t know how to manage your budget.”

In previous articles, I’ve listed 12 reasons this behavior should be removed (here, here, here, and here).  If you find this entertaining reading that may resonate for both employees and managers alike.

So let’s continue this list, this time focusing on what managing using perceptions reveals about the manager.

13.  The manager is exposed to similar tactics, indirect and direct back to the manager

The manager says, “There’s a perception that you don’t deliver.”  This encourages the employee to think (in most cases) or say (in fewer cases) in response to the boss a similar kind of feedback:

“OK, there’s a perception that you’re a terrible boss and don’t know what you’re doing.”  Or perhaps, “There’s a perception that you don’t know how to give performance feedback.”

By using the “there’s a perception that” line, it essentially trains the employees to think and use back at you the same damaging rhetoric being used on them.  In fact, upon training the employee to think perceptions first, this is probably the thing in the employee that will most likely change.

The employees will start creating “perceptions” about the manager, and most likely they won’t be directly to the manager.  Instead, they will extend the negative and difficult perceptions around the workplace about the manager.

Here’s where employees can do this:

1. One-one-discussions with the manager’s manager:

“There’s a perception that my manager is having a lot of difficulty managing the team.”

2. On 360-feedback forms:

“There’s a perception that my manager struggles a lot.”

3. To each other:

“There’s a perception that our manager isn’t comfortable giving feedback, no matter what we do or what results we get.

4. During exit interviews:

“There’s a perception that this is the worst-run team in the organization.”

Using the “There’s a perception that. . .” line reveals that you are a manager who wants to receive feedback via the veil of perceptions.

14. It demonstrates that the manager is not committed to the feedback and changing behaviors

When a manager uses the “there’s a perception that” line, it indicates that the manager himself is not sure as to what is true and what is not true.  The manager is ultimately non-committal to the actual events, yet still feels comfortable giving “feedback.”   This reveals the manager as a “gutless wonder” (thanks, “Strictly Ballroom!” for this term) who wants something to change, but is not committed to that change.  As such, this reduces trust with the employee.  Without the manager commitment to changing the behavior, this means that the manager will likely undermine either the changed behavior, or the unchanged behavior, creating an overall untrustworthy work relationship.

15. Creates and amplifies ambiguity

In a previous article, I cite the need for managers to reduce ambiguity, as this is what “dealing with ambiguity” means.  However, many managers, in their day-to-day behaviors, end up creating ambiguity, and using the “there’s a perception that. . .” line when giving feedback is a prime example of this.  By adding the complex phantom job of managing perceptions, employees have to guess who has what perception, and have to combat perceptions.  This is hard and it is unclear what needs to be done next.  Do you do your job?  Do you manage perceptions?  Whose perceptions do you manage – your peers’?  Your customers’?  Your boss’s?  Your boss’s boss’s?  This is a lot of ambiguity that is unnecessary.

16. Undermines efforts to find data, facts, and understanding

When a manager elevates the importance of managing perceptions, this automatically reduces the importance of using data, facts and seeking agreement of what’s true.  This means that efforts to compile information, be data-driven in making decisions, and generating a team understanding of what is true are most likely to be tossed out the window and now considered quaint and unimportant.  If being more data-driven in your decision making is important, then use data and not perceptions in making decisions.  The moment perceptions are cited is the moment that data is not as important as generating perceptions, and it trains the team to focus on creating and perpetuating perceptions instead of creating and sharing data.

Related Articles:

Using perceptions to manage: Three reasons why this messes things up

Using perceptions to manage: Three more reasons “There’s a perception that. . .” should be removed from a manager’s vocabulary

Using perceptions to manage: Three unintended consequences, or, how a manager can create a gossip culture in one easy step

Using perceptions to manage: Are positive perceptions cited?

Using perceptions to manage: What does this reveal about the manager?

Using perceptions to manage: What does this tell us about the manager’s feedback providing skills?

Using perceptions to manage: An example of how to transform a perception into improved performance feedback

A tool for how to tell if feedback is relevant to your job

Performance feedback must be related to a performance

A model to determine if performance feedback is relevant to job performance

A second phantom job many employees have: Managing perceptions of others

Using perceptions to manage: How this undermines efforts for change

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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .


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