Perception Is Reality: How to See From Other Perspectives

Abstract image of two women thinking different things, showing that perception is reality

When you and another person don’t see eye-to-eye, remind yourself: Perception is reality. Doing so will help you build trust and strengthen your relationship.

Let me tell you about something that happened this week.

I had a call with Bill, a colleague of mine, and I was raving about a paid membership community I’m part of. I was talking about all its benefits, how much I had learned, and how perfect I thought he would be for it.

To be clear, I had absolutely no agenda in sharing all this with him. It wasn’t one of those situations where I get money if I get others to sign up; I just really loved this community and I thought he might benefit from it too.

I did tell him that the community was capped at 200 people, and that was part of the value as it seemed to be the perfect number for engagement without getting lost in the crowd.

Afterwards, I thought to myself:

I hope I wasn’t too pushy. I just really think Bill would enjoy it.

A few days later, Bill texted me.

“Ah looks like it’s maxed out already at 200. But thanks!”

I wanted to text him back. I’d tell him, “That’s no problem! New spots open up every month. I can put in a good word for you; I’m sure I can get you in.”

But then I thought about it:

  • What good would that do?
  • Had Bill shown any real interest in joining this community?
  • How would he feel about it if I kept pushing? How might it affect our relationship?

In the end, I decided just to send a thumbs up, forget about it, and move on.

Why? Because…

Perception is reality

In this scenario, my reality would be that I just really wanted to help, to share something good.

But what would Bill’s reality be?

Very possibly, something like:

“Oh man, why is he pushing this thing so hard? Is he getting something out of it? Can’t he see I’m not really interested?”

Because Bill and my perspectives are much different, our “realities” are also much different.

Similarly, it’s important to realize that for every person you interact with, their perception will be their reality.

For example, a boss or colleague may perceive you as not very hard-working, because you like to have fun and laugh with others while at work. On the other hand, you may view others as overly serious or uncaring, because they’re so rule-and deadline oriented. (Or vice-versa.)

Or, a friend or relative may think you’re neglecting your relationship with them. You may feel they’re being unfair; they don’t realize you’re going out of your way to spend time with them, even though you’ve got so much going on.

“Perception is reality” doesn’t mean that what others think about you is 100% accurate. But it does mean that you see the situation one way, they see it another…and reality is likely somewhere in between.

If you can keep this in mind as you deal with others, you’ll be coming from a place of knowledge and understanding. This is a real-world application of empathy, the ability to see and feel things from another person’s perspective.

Of course, you won’t be able to 100% relate to everyone, all of the time…but by trying, and with practice, you’ll get better and better.

Knowing this, you’ll realize that sometimes it’s best to leave things alone (like I did with Bill).

Other times, you may try to change the other person’s perception, to help them understand your reality.

Either way, when you’re able to see things from others’ perspectives, and relate to those, you’ll

  • avoid doing things you later regret
  • build trust and respect
  • strengthen your relationships.

So, when you and another person don’t seem to see things eye to eye, remind yourself:

Perception is reality.

Then, use that knowledge to help you move forward in a productive way—so emotions work for you, instead of against you.

 

If you liked this post, you might enjoy more of our emotional intelligence tools: simple frameworks to help you better understand and manage emotions, communicate more effectively, and build stronger relationships.

 

ADDENDUM: A reader reached out with the following question:

Thanks for sending out your EQ Applied email updates regularly. I always read them and feel they add value to my life and work. This one today on perception and reality bothered me, however.

The issue I have with your advice, as it relates to your story with Bill, is that you didn’t mention ever checking in with him after he sent you the text informing you that the group was full. He may have felt that you were being pushy, or he may have been appreciative of the offer to help him get into the group as new spots opened up.

Either way, I think you missed an opportunity to check in with him on how your own perception aligns with the reality of the situation. So you don’t really know whether your decision not to offer that help was the right or wrong way to proceed, though you presented it as the right decision following the example, and I think this is the part that bothers me about it.

I also think that a big part of accepting that we all have different perceptions of reality is that we check in with others to discover whether the stories we tell ourselves about situations like this one reflect reality as accurately as possible.

And here’s my reply:

Thanks so much for taking the time to respond. I agree that I may have gotten it wrong, and that maybe Bill would still want to join the membership. However, I stand by my decision and explanation.

When it comes to interpreting others’ behavior, we must constantly weigh risk and reward, and then decide whether or not to make an assumption, or to ask the person directly how they think/feel. And even when we do ask directly, we may still have to make a judgment call—the person may lie, they may withhold information, they may not understand how they truly think and feel. (I’m not saying this is often the case; I tend to take persons at their word—I’m just saying it’s possible.)

In this case, the risk of continuing to push was greater than the reward of potentially helping Bill. I made this analysis based on various factors: the membership is expensive, Bill didn’t show much interest in it from the beginning, my contact with Bill is limited, I.e., we’re not close friends, more “work friends.”

Now, regarding what you said here:

“I also think that a big part of accepting that we all have different perceptions of reality is that we check in with others to discover whether the stories we tell ourselves about situations like this one reflect reality as accurately as possible.”

I completely agree that we should do this from time to time! In fact, I’ve been planning a future piece on this very topic, namely, “the story we tell ourselves.”

And thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts.

 

If you liked this post, you might enjoy more of our emotional intelligence tools: simple frameworks to help you better understand and manage emotions, communicate more effectively, and build stronger relationships.

 

You might also like:

The Golden Question: See Into the Future

How to Control Negative Thoughts: Use the “Blue Dolphin Rule”

Disagree and Commit: Strengthen Your Relationships

 

 

 

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