The power of projection and perceptions

IF you’ve ever played golf, you’ll relate to this scenario. You’re on the tee, driver in hand, looking down the beautiful green fairway. Towering bushland encroaches from both sides as far as you can see, and the rough in the trees is clearly a golf ball graveyard. Bunkers sit quietly, like crocodiles in a Kimberley river, just waiting. Somewhere down there, there’s a flag, somewhere …

What do you see at this point in time? The bushland and bunkers or the fairway and flag? What are your expectations as you line up for the shot? Do you expect to send your ball into early retirement, or to have it land smack in the middle of the fairway, perfectly positioned for your next shot to the flag?

If you’re like me, you’ve seen the trees more than you’ve seen the fairway. You’ve seen yourself searching through the bush for that elusive white ball, even before you’ve taken a stroke. And what happens? That’s where you end up most of the time.

Of course, this concept doesn’t just apply to the golf course. What we expect in life generally happens to us. The way we see ourselves has a direct relationship with the results we get.

I recently moved out of my home office into professional premises in West Perth. Until I moved, I didn’t realise how much working from a home office had adversely affected my self-image. Moving to West Perth has helped me see myself in a much more professional light. As a result, business is booming.

There’s significant body of evidence and research in this area. Plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz, in his pioneering book Psycho-Cybernetics, reported on the remarkable changes in behaviour of his patients once they had undergone plastic surgery. Once they (literally) saw themselves as more attractive, they began to act as though they were.

We don’t have to go under the knife to change our self-image. See yourself successful, beautiful, wealthy, whatever you want, and you will become it.

Let’s extend this concept a little further. If our opinion of ourselves influences the results we get, what about our opinion of others? Does what we think about others influence how they behave? This is where it starts to get interesting.

There’s a famous study, known as the Oak School experiment, where teachers were told that a certain group of students, as identified by testing, would be able to make the greatest progress during the school year. In reality, the students were chosen completely at random and not tested at all.

By year end, these students showed significant increases in performance, as well as in their IQ. In other words, the teachers’ assumptions about their students affected not only their performance, but their potential as well.

The implications? Well, take a step back for a moment. Consider your assumptions about the people you deal with on a day-to-day basis. Your staff. Your team members. Your customers. Bring those unconscious assumptions to the surface. What do you believe about their ability? Do you see some people in your team as high-fliers and some as just average? How did you form these opinions?

We don’t operate in isolation. We live and work in as part of a larger system, and our thoughts, and therefore our actions, have an effect on others. Don’t just blame your people for not getting the results you want. What you think about them probably has something to do with it as well.

Margaret Wheatley, author of Leadership and the New Science, makes note that those “anointed” in organisations as high flyers are “given life through our desire to observe them as winners. We have already decided that they will succeed, and so we continually observe them with the expectation that they will confirm our beliefs.”

Achievers get the interesting work and more resources. Plodders get overlooked. As Wheatley puts it, plodders are “bundles of potential that no-one bothers to look at”. If your want to get the best out of your entire team, learn to see the potential in every one of them.

Of course, our opinions and beliefs are not the sole cause of whether others will succeed or fail. The other major factor is people’s own belief about themselves. But we operate in dynamic world. A person’s own self-belief is influenced by the feedback they get from others. Those others include you.

I believe that we need to see the potential in everyone we interact with, and act accordingly. If we truly expect others to shine, then they have a greater chance of doing so.

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