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Perceptions – a difficult conversation

Perception is everything. Understanding that people perceive differently due to culture, gender, environment and context among others is a crucial element of effective communication.

Communication in the workplace and at home

Being able to communicate your perception and the impact of others actions on your mental health can be an extremely difficult conversation.

I was talking to my daughter recently and she is concerned about body image. Unfortunately these thoughts have come from some of her “friends” making comment on her body shape. For my daughter the comments are having a negative impact and making her want to be different.

So we discussed why her friends may say this, talking about their own insecurities and motivations. She was concerned that she might lose her friends if she immediately went to the teachers. We talked about how important it is to make sure that my daughter’s friends understand how the comments make her feel.

The concept of perception was bought up. It can be complex to try and explain perceptions and that, as often is the case in these situations, the friend may not realise the impact of their words, and most likely there are no negative thoughts or intended malice associated with the friend’s comments.

We discussed that the first step should be for my daughter to give her perception of the comments. The conversation then went onto query if the comments do not stop, what next? So we discussed escalation to achieve resolution, making sure you start at the lowest level.

Start at the lowest level

At this point during the discussion my daughter came up with a great analogy; “Like a tall building where you take the stairs. You have to start at the ground floor and until you do not gain the response or resolution needed you work your way up each level. Allowing my friend and opportunity to change their behaviour before escalating it. Making sure you don’t jump in the lift and go straight to the top floor”.

In any workplace a difference in perception can result in tension, negative morale (loss of friends), loss of productivity, increased stress and the list goes on. To prevent unnecessary escalation it is essential that colleges, peers, subordinates feel they have the ability to discuss how comments, statements or actions make them feel – how they have perceived an interaction – so they can take the stairs. Additionally, it is equally important that the person hearing these perceptions are open and actively listen. Also in the event that the person hearing the difference in perception is unresponsive or dismissive there must be a clear steps to get to the next floor.

Individuals should be given the opportunity to speak and those who make the comments/action should have the opportunity to explain and/or change their behaviours before the lift is taken to the top floor. Having these difficult conversations is something that can be taught not only for the deliverer but also for the receiver. Although, I do accept that in some circumstances the lift is the most appropriate option, it should in most cases be the last option.

Educating my daughter in difficult conversations from an early stage to give her tools to deal with things that have a negative impact on her mental health is something I see as vitally important. Particularly in the age of social media and reduced face to face interactions being able to have a voice will hopefully improve her chances of success in what ever she chooses.