Effective Workplace Communication Helps Align Perceptions with Reality

Many of us grew up with the age-old adage of “don’t judge a book by its cover.” We were taught to see past the surface level and look for beauty beyond skin deep. However, our initial judgments often ignore pleasantries when evaluating first impressions. It is part of why dress codes are important in the corporate world. Effective, honest, clear workplace communication helps managers better understand employees and look beyond initial perceptions.

It takes less time to gauge others by how they look than by what they can contribute, but we all know looks can be deceiving.

In the workplace, we need to remember that critical evaluation beyond appearances is more than just an issue of manners; it is vital to company success. We might judge others on perceptions but reality brings results at the end of the day.

The tug-of-war between perception and reality can lead to problems of employee efficiency. Robert C. Pozen, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and author of “Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours,” wrote for The New York Times about this “hours over results” problem. More efficient employees might find themselves wasting time just to log the same number of hours as their colleagues. What people notice drives us more than realistically evaluating what we have accomplished.

In his book, Pozen criticized hours-based productivity as a remnant of the industrial age that is ineffective in motivating modern professionals. Playing the game of watching the clock to judge when it is time to quit working conflicts with the specific demands of each task or project. Long meetings are an example of when more is actually less. After too long, attention spans begin to waiver and a meeting can dwindle into unproductivity.  It is best to use agendas and assign individual tasks with specific deadlines.

Taking a more regimented approach to structuring meetings requires increased communication. Leaders have to plan ahead, communicate with employees before the meeting, and follow-up with individuals after the meeting. Following a communication process will help keep perceptions in check with reality.

Sometimes efficiency comes from looking for big ideas, not the intricate details as when reading long articles and reports.

Communicate with your employees the purpose behind what you send them to read. Employees should also ask questions about materials and determine their relevancy.

When you want to judge an employee’s workplace efficiency, look for objective measures of success. These can help managers move beyond their perceptions. Many managers prefer certain employees simply because they worked long hours, but had little substance to show for all of their time spent at the office. Workplace communication should occur on multiple levels, including knowing how to best manage each employee.  Managers need to recognize potential and help employees to fulfill that potential through support, encouragement, coaching, and training.

Even if you choose to pursue results over hours, you still run the risk of perception overruling the reality of your efficiency as an employee. Communication drives employee performance. Managers and employees should work together to define efficiency by ranking tasks and taking objective measures to determine the particular priorities of their projects. Efficiency is not the same as being quick. An efficient employee may still have to work overtime on some projects.

Assessments can help take some of the guesswork out of communicating with employees. The projects employees produce should be the real test of their effectiveness. Workplace communication takes more effort than relying on only our perceptions. We run the risk of destroying employee efficiency if we forget the lessons we learned as children to look beyond the surface.

Effective and successful managers are excellent communicators because they have learned what motivates their team members, what concerns them, what particular skills they have, areas where improvement could be made, and can mentor employees or offer them appropriate training opportunities to enhance the skills they have and gain new ones.  They have learned this because they are excellent active listeners, accountable for what they do, and encourage employees to ask questions and contribute ideas that will make projects more efficient and everyone more productive.  When they manage in this way their team will be better able to complete projects on time efficiently and creatively and all common goals can be achieved as well.  In addition, modelling this sort of behaviour encourages the rest of the team to be honest and clear in their communication with each other and that makes teamwork easier and high performance more likely.


Sandy Chernoff
Sandy Chernoff
SANDY'S 30 years of didactic and clinical teaching in study clubs and continuing dental education, coupled with her almost 40 years of Dental Hygiene practice bring a wealth of experience to her interactive soft skills workshops. With her education background she easily customizes interactive sessions to suit the specific needs of her clients. Her energetic and humorous presentation style has entertained and informed audiences from Victoria to New York City. Sandy’s client list includes law firms, teaching institutions, volunteer and professional organizations and conferences, businesses, and individuals. Her newest project is turning her live workshops into e-learning programs using an LMS platform. Her teaching and education background have helped her to produce meaningful and somewhat interactive courses for the learners wanting the convenience of e-learning options. As the author of 5 Secrets to Effective Communication, Sandy has demonstrated her ability to demystify the complexities of communication so that the reader can learn better strategies and approaches which will greatly improve their communication skills and ultimately reduce conflict, resentment, disappointment, complaining, and confusion. As a result, the reader will be able to increase productivity, efficiency and creativity, improve all the relationships in their lives and ultimately enjoy a happier, healthier existence! Sandy blogs regularly on her two websites on the various soft skills topics that are featured in her workshops and e-learning programs.

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  1. For charity! Wrong perceptions of reality have limited experiences, even killed innocents. In short, it is the certain system for doing harm. It is the responsibility of each of us to understand the substantial difference between reality and personal perception of reality. This is all the more the responsibility of a manager.
    For this reason I have always said to my students: before starting a conversation dynamic, make sure you have:
    the right inner availability that guarantees a real motivation to undertake that type of interpersonal relationship;
    very clear the purposes, the disposition to perceive without distortions the answers that will be given to you, the nuances, the hints, the tone of the voice, the rhythm, the expressions;
    the ability to assess objectively and accurately while keeping attention focused on what matters;
    the awareness that the collaborator in front of you is first of all a person to whom his rights must be recognized;
    a good opening to make a judgment with a vision clear from extremist or rigid points of view towards people and situations, but strongly anchored to self-control so as not to be influenced and oriented by one’s personal feelings;
    the willingness to put yourself in the other’s shoes (empathy) in order to understand the origins of the behavior; knowing how to recognize if the collaborator is the person who is interviewing or if it is the situation of the interview that makes him / her perceive in a certain way;
    the will to know how to use the programmed time adequately to give space to both questions and answers.
    Only then are you both working together.

    • Hi Aldo, as usual, you have great insights to share with the readers and I greatly appreciate them. In addition, we usually agree on issues and I certainly agree with your comments here.
      Hope you are doing well & staying safe & healthy.

  2. Thank you, Sandy.
    Roger von Oech wrote a very cool book called A Whack on the Side of the Head. He loves to run and he loves dogs. When he moved to his new place, he ran hither and yon to explore and found a wonderful dog named Aslan (as in C.S. Lewis) to play with. One day, he stopped by the yard and no Aslan. He found out Aslan had died, but the next morning he found himself running by the same yard even though the reason for doing it was not there any more. He named that The Aslan Phenomenon.
    So paying for time and attendance, separating kids by age in our schools, reading slides to rows of humans and calling it learning, are all examples, I think, of The Aslan Phenomenon.