The perception of reality

Throughout all of last week, there was a big discussion about Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler. Did he quit? Was he tough enough? Several NFL players, current and former, thought that he wasn’t. And they blitzed him about it on Twitter.

The reason that they said this was all about their perception of the situation. Throughout the week, everyone kept saying that “perception is reality.” That got me to thinking about what that phrase really means in terms of communication.

Communicating an idea and creating buy-in from others is about getting them to envision a scenario in the same way that you do. You are trying to get them to perceive your reality. It is all staging, so to speak. Once they see it the way that you do, then your reality becomes theirs and things can get done. Whether they be a project, a sale, a job, etc. The initial step is creating the reality that people will live in while the action is taking place, and this is all set up by the way we communicate our way of seeing things.

So, when Cutler was out of the game, but wasn’t on crutches and was just sitting there on the sideline, this triggered the NFL players to reference their reality and question what it was they were seeing. They perceived a change in their reality and they attacked. What actually occurred was slow in coming out from the Bears (an issue for another time), and thus there was no authoritative communication on the subject. The vacuum was filled by others with louder voices trying to insert their version of reality on the situation.

This situation is a good case study for communicators because it demonstrates the ability for a small, knowledgable group to overtake the conversation and create a version of reality that may or may not be verifiable.

What do you think? Have you ever been in a situation like this? If so, how did you shift the conversation back to your perception of reality?


The darkest January sky

Twenty-five years ago today, seven people who had a goal of touching the stars and bringing their experiences back to those of us on Earth lost their lives in NASA’s first and most tragic in-flight disaster.

The explosion of the Challenger space shuttle was a generational moment much like JFK’s assassination of the fall of the Twin Towers on September 11. The tragic nature of the moment–the loss of innocence, the questions raised about our path as a nation, and the need to rethink our hopes and dreams–brought us together as a nation. Living in that moment, we all shared in the experience, the shock, the grief, and the recovery.

I was eight when it happened, but hearing the radio communications today from that morning gave me the chills. The images are still jarring.

Even though I was young, I knew that this launch symbolized the hope the nation had in the future and that the explosion was extremely damaging in more ways than one.

Please, take a moment today to remember the courage of those seven astronauts and what occurred in January’s darkest sky.

NASA tribute to the Challenger crew:

Top 4 communication don’ts for 2011

In the wake of the tragic shootings in Tucson earlier this month, I read and watched with great interest the media coverage about the influence political rhetoric may have had on the shooter. Now, with the State of the Union (#SOTU) just days away, there are several PR stunts that are taking place (like this) in an attempt to ratchet down the rhetoric and communicate a message of unity. I think this is actually a good thing. And it lead me to think about the communication trends that will flow throughout 2011.

So, without any further hesitation, here are the 6 things you should avoid this year in your communications:

  1. Hate-filled political rhetoric. Simply put, when you spout hatred, the majority of people will turn you off immediately. Those that don’t are just looking to hear their own thoughts echoed back to them. Instead of building political arguments on crass emotional epitaphs, 2011 will be a year to use your brain to build political communications that are based on provable metrics. Of course, there will always be emotional messaging in politics, but making the case in support of one side or the other will be a lot easier if you can put out strong numbers that are then supported with a positive success story.
  2. Splintered messaging. Keeping your message consistent across all communication channels will be the way to go this year. Don’t say one thing on Twitter and something entirely different on your blog. Instead create one message and format it for each communication vehicle. This will cut down on the noise that can interfere with message being decoded by your intended audience.
  3. Crisis mode. Do you think that if BP and Toyota had it to do all over again, that they would get out in front of the story, trying to manage how it unfolds rather than communicating from a defensive position? I would hope so. But, maybe not. Maybe how they communicated was so ingrained in their corporate culture that looking like bungling dolts out of the gate was the only way they could come out of the gate. Instead, in 2011, organizations that go into crisis mode need to get their side of the story out first and fast. They need to be active in the social media sphere by interacting with the media and their audiences. What they don’t need is the public face of the organization speaking without a filter. Think before speaking, it really helps in a crisis.
  4. Information overload. It seems like we’re hardwired now to constantly produce and receive communications. Are we?’s commercials about search overload make a good point. There is too much needless information cluttering our communications. So, in 2011, don’t add to it. Remember the old adage: “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” In other words, Make sure that when you communicate, you’re adding value for your intended audience. You can do so by learning about your audience. What do they care about? What do they already know and what might be interesting to them? Find out the answers by interacting with your audience. Listen when you are doing this, and you’ll be amazed at what you’ll hear.

Well, there you go. My Top 4 communication don’ts for 2011. What do you think? Are there others that should be added to the list? I’m interested to hear your thoughts.