1: “It’s a lot harder to change people’s perception of our behavior than it is to change our behavior,” writes Marshall Goldsmith in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. “In fact, I calculate that we have to get 100% better in order to get 10% credit for it from our coworkers.”

Marshall is one of the top executive coaches in the world. This week we’ve been exploring his process to improve our interpersonal relationships and get people to change their perceptions of us. Step one is using feedback to identify the interpersonal habit that’s holding us back. Step two is apologizing for whatever troublesome behavior has irritated the people who matter to us at work or at home.  

So we’re done? Not so fast, Marshall tells us.

People view us in a manner consistent with their existing viewpoints, whether positive or negative. If someone thinks of us as “an arrogant jerk,” everything we “do will be filtered through that perception,” Marshall notes. If we do something “wonderful and saintly,” people will view this as the exception to the rule. We’re still an “arrogant jerk” in their minds.

The problem? “Within that framework it’s almost impossible for us to be perceived as improving, no matter how hard we try.”

2: What is the key to changing people’s perception of us?  

We must explicitly tell people we are trying to change. “Suddenly, our efforts are on their radar screen,” Marshall writes. We’re “beginning to chip away at their preconceptions.”

But we’re not done yet. Hardly. We must repeatedly tell people how hard we’re trying and repeat our message week after week.  

Marshall recommends asking them for their ideas to help us improve. Now our colleagues become invested in the change because they naturally pay attention to see if we are paying attention to their suggestions.

Marshall calls this step “telling the world” or “advertising.”

After we apologize, we must advertise. “It’s not enough to tell everyone that you want to get better,” he writes. We “have to declare exactly in what area we plan to change.” This step is not a “do it once, check the box” exercise. We’re “not running a one day sale,” he notes. We’re “trying to create a lasting change. We have to advertise relentlessly—as if it’s a long-term campaign.”

We must not assume people hear us “the first time or the second time or even the third,” he writes. “Because people aren’t paying as close attention to our personal goals as we are. They have other things on their minds; they have their own goals and challenges to deal with. . . We cannot rely on other people to read our mind or take note of the changed behavior we’re displaying.”  

3: Changing people’s perceptions of us is similar to any other project we do.  

For example, assume we take on a major assignment to find out what’s happening at a trouble spot within our organization. We “study the situation, identify the problem, report our findings and recommendations to the boss, outline a new approach, and turn it over to the appropriate people to implement the strategy,” Marshall writes.

Then what? A month goes by. No changes. Another month. Still no progress. Six months later, nothing has happened.  

What did we do wrong?

We went: one, two, three . . . seven.

We didn’t take into account that every project goes through seven phases. “The first is assessing the situation; the second is isolating the problem; the third is formulating. But there are three more phases before we get to the seventh, implementation.”

We skipped phases four, five, and six. These stages are when we secure buy-in for our plans. In phase 4, we get our superiors to approve. In phase 5, we get our peers to agree. In phase 6, we get our direct reports to accept.

“These three phases are the sine qua non of getting things done,” Marshall writes. We “cannot skip or skim over them. We have to give them as much, if not more, attention, as phases one, two, three, and seven.”

It’s the same with getting people to change their perceptions of us and help us change for the better. It requires “time and relentless persuasion,” he observes.

If we fail to do this, we are counting “one, two, three, seven” on ourselves,” Marshall writes. We “can’t get to seven without counting from one to six. Anything less is bad arithmetic.”

More tomorrow.


Reflection: What is a perception others have of me I would like to change?

Action: Gather feedback. Apologize. Advertise the change we want to make. Ask others for their ideas on how we can do this. Follow up relentlessly.

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