Managing Perceptions: Accept ThemPosted on October 25, 2015

Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

Being open minded is not nearly as easy as it sounds. When others disagree with us, it is hard not to become defensive. This is especially true when they are nasty or adopt an arrogant tone—a time-honored technique embraced by generations of insecure people. Remaining cool and collected when under attack is first a worthy goal, then an act and finally the genuine posture of a mature physician leader. This takes time and practice. Reading about it in a leadership blog is not enough. It is a start though.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

Until you have accepted others’ perceptions as reasonable and legitimate, you have no chance of changing them—or learning from them and modifying your own. People have their perceptions and they are among their most treasured possessions. The more unreasonable they are, the more resistant they are to modification or abandonment. This means you cannot ignore them or allow yourself to be surprised by them. Perceptions must be accepted and managed respectfully. This is not just a nice thing to do. It is the only approach that works.

How can you do it?

View this as your duty. Leaders exist to produce results. You cannot produce results until you take this first step.

Recognize your arousal. Your heart rate will accelerate. Your respirations will increase. Your voice will be shaky. Your benign familial tremor will worsen. You will feel the urge to say something stupid. Emotional arousal is hard to miss—except in yourself.

Keep your mouth shut. Most of what you say when you are hurt or angry you will regret later.

Calm yourself. This will usually take a few minutes. Making eye contact and nodding your understanding helps. Deep breaths help. Taking notes can be helpful. Pretend you are a disinterested reporter.

Ask clarifying questions. Wait until you are calm enough to ask questions without being surly or appearing put upon.

State your understanding and acceptance. You do not have to agree. You just have to make it clear that you get it. When you have accurately summarized others’ perceptions, ask whether you’ve got it and whether there is anything else they want to make sure you understand. React the way you would with a difficult patient. The skill set is pretty much the same.

How have you accepted others’ perceptions as legitimate even when you strongly disagreed with them?

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