Perceptions & Reputations

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Can peoples’ actions influence our perceptions? Can someone have a reputation that makes you give them some slack when you hear a news story about them? And others, at the mere mention of their name, you say, “What have they done now?” Recently, we’ve had some interesting stories to think about.

When the whole “deflate-gate” story came out just before the super bowl, what were your initial thoughts? “What now from the Patriots camp?” Bill Belichick may be known for being one of the best football coaches; he has a great and winning record. However, he’s less than transparent with the media. He may be open among those close to him, but to outsiders, he seems a little economical with details and maybe even the truth. He’s not disclosing; not forthcoming. Is that to say he’s dishonest? Maybe so, maybe not, but our perception of him is influenced by what we see of his actions. His past behaviors influence our current perceptions.

Let’s take another recent story. Brian Williams. What were your initial thoughts when he apologized for getting his story wrong about taking fire when traveling in Iraq? “Innocent mistake?” “Did I hear that right?” He always comes across as a decent man, humble and sincere. Did you give him a pass at first? Did you hope that there was some explanation that your trusted newsman had gotten the story wrong? Now, based on that one action, people go back to prior stories to see if he embellished those. His current behavior makes us review his past behavior. Has our perception changed?

Another story. Recently in Aspen, Lance Armstrong left the scene after crashing into two parked cars. Oh, and yes, his girlfriend said she was driving and then recanted. What were your thoughts after hearing this one? “Does this guy never learn?” “There he goes again trying to deflect the blame.” Sadly his past behavior and future behavior are the same. He wants to be pardoned yet he still hasn’t learned to be accountable for his actions…he hasn’t learned humility. He had it all, lost it and yet still behaves with arrogance. Perception equals reality.

Contrast all of this with someone until recently we had no knowledge of and therefore, no perception. James Robertson, the 56 year old factory worker who walks to work ever since his car broke down, which sounds reasonable until you learn that his 46 mile commute includes 21 miles of walking each day…in Detroit! He’s not a highly paid, well-known public figure. He is a man who gets roughly 2 hours of sleep each night, and NEVER misses a day of work at his job that pays $10.55 per hour. What kind of reputation do you think James has?  What are your perceptions? “Hard-working?” “Humble?” A grateful man; respectful of his employer and willing to be accountable for what is in his power – his actions. What can the rest of us learn from him? Even his boss says, “He sets the standard for others.”

Perceptions are critical. Do you have a reputation which helps you to overcome obstacles or one that creates them for you?

A special thanks to Kris Miller for recommending the James Robertson story for our blog! Thanks, Kris! Feel free to share your ideas for stories with us.