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Understanding Perception and its Impact on Success

Naturally, individuals make assumptions about others based on their appearance.  This perception has an impact on how people react and interact with you.  Understanding this impact and being self aware of your own assumptions can lead you to a better outcome in your day to day life.

A few months ago my mother was looking for a new car.  Based on how she dressed there were noticeable differences on how much attention a salesman gave her as her dress and mannerisms were driving their reactions to her.   She visited one dealership in shorts and a t shirt on a week day and was completely ignored.   Going to the same dealer a few days later in a more professional set of clothes resulted in the salesmen swarming like bees. That first experience with that dealership ultimately led to her shunning the entire make, costing the dealership even the potential for a sale.

Lest you think this was a timing issue, I’ve encountered the same issue any number of ways.  While in college, a police officer admitted he gave me a ticket instead of a warning after a stop because his initial impression of me was that I would give him a hard time. More recently I have noticed a difference in whether I’m asked for my ID while buying alcohol when my head is shaved ( I look younger) to when my hair is longer.

Nurburgring Castle

Even my own biases color my interactions with others.  Ten years ago, I was in Germany visiting the Nurburgring, the longest most famous track in the world.  Since rental cars cannot be driven on the track, I decided to sit in the cafe eating lunch before approaching some drivers to ask for a ride.  During that time, I decided to chat up a pretty girl.   Through my discussions with this young lady I managed to piece together that she was in Germany for the weekend with her friend.  She lived in Russia and they came down every weekend from Moscow to drive the track.  She explained that she was a film editor that naturalized US TV for Russian audiences.  She never did tell me what her friend did but yet I requested a ride.

From that point on it was largely a surreal experience.   I was walked out to the most expensive car in the parking lot (a brand new Porsche 911 GT3 RS) and she introduced me to her Russian friend who spoke no German or English.  After a very enjoyable jaunt around the track, with someone who I would describe as the best driver I’ve ever ridden with (and I have riden with some stellar Semi Pro drivers over the years), I got out and said my adieu.  Why?  Because my perception based on my understanding of Russian Oligarchy is I probably did not want to know what this gentleman did for a living or get too involved.  Was that the correct conclusion or did I miss out on a potential friend and business contact by not passing off my business card?  I’ll never know.

So the point here is in order to be truly successful one must understand the perceptions you have and those others have about you.  This will allow you to adjust your approach accordingly which will lead to better outcomes in your favor.  Start by attempting to put yourself in the shoes of the person you are approaching.  Try to understand their values and beliefs about the world around you. If you can see the world from their point of view, then you can position your wants, needs, and situations in a way that will be of value to both of you.  This will allow you to better negotiate and position things to meet your goals.

Have you experienced situations where your perceptions hurt your interactions?  What steps do you take to be aware of your own biases?

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