Perceiving Reality – How Hard Can It Be?

Businesses that make better decisions have better results. Better decisions depend on an accurate perception of reality. For the policymaker of a business, there is no more important skill than perceiving reality. It is a surprisingly complex capability.

Those who go forward on the premise, “what I see and hear, I know”, are doomed. One person cannot observe and hear all things occurring in a business. Moreover, as mystery novels and defense lawyers are fond of pointing out, what one witness experiences is often not the whole reality of a situation. Not only are we limited to the sense of one set of eyes and ears and the response of one brain, but there are also often emotional and prejudicial reactions that influence what we sense without our being aware of those filters.

Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan in their book, Confronting Reality, list “six habits of highly unrealistic leaders” that cause failures to confront reality:

  • Filtered Information – information filtered through several layers of management lacks the critical facts that could make all the difference.
  • Selective Hearing – due to preconceived notions or arrogance, certain information is not processed even though presented.
  • Wishful Thinking – the visualization of things as they are desired to overcome the facts indicating otherwise.
  • Fear – where reports not rendering a certain view cause the reporter to be punished (that is to say bosses punish people for their views).
  • Emotional Over-investment – emotions blind perception of a new reality.
  • Unrealistic Expectations – pressure to perform results in false perceptions.

We understand that if our decision-making involves looking in a mirror for answers, that we are not deciding based on an accurate perception of reality. Moreover, we also understand that our perception of reality is shaped also by what other witnesses tell us, and, of course, these narratives are filtered by the resident emotions and prejudices of those narrators.

The policymaker of a business must make an effort to perceive reality by creating a group decision-making environment. The group should involve stakeholders, persons affected by the decision, and persons who will execute actions to accomplish the goals created by the decision. There must be a safe place where an idea may be articulated and listened to by the group. (This by the way is a figurative statement – the group need not all meet at one place, although that meeting may be appropriate in certain situations.) While any listener vested in the effect of the idea or concept cannot avoid the emotional aspect which will unavoidably alter their perspective, not all listeners will have the same involvement of emotions. In this dialogue, the candor of the party articulating the idea and the candor of the listener’s reply will be critical to the effective development of the idea to concept than to the goal of the plan. Hearing with care the perceptions of a variety of persons enables the listener to better perceive the accurate reality.

The challenge for businesses is to perceive and react to changes in the business environment. For a business to succeed and grow, there must be an appropriate reaction to changes in the reality the business faces. Without a disciplined and energetic effort to perceive reality, keeping in mind all the human frailties that cause us to ignore changes, the continuation of the business is in jeopardy. For help in creating a decision-making policy in your business please see the articles on my blog, Owning A Business, at or give me a call.