Could your Presence be driving Misperceptions too?

Three Ways to Develop Strong Leadership Presence

A few years ago a client complained that I was aggressive. Ouch! Feedback isn’t always easy to hear, is it? This was a first for me in the ten years I’ve been working as a Communication Specialist. I pondered why that team of high-powered male financiers had perceived me this way.

I didn’t understand and the term aggressive didn’t sit well with me at all. I’m assertive, yes. But aggressive? Surely not. I began to think that perhaps I didn’t line up with their expectations? I began to think that my gender and race might have had something to do with it. I began to feel angry.

Navigating that thin line between being seen as assertive, not aggressive, is no easy feat for women. Particularly if you're a woman of colour. There's even a term for it, The Double Bind.

But then I reminded myself that perception is reality, and their perception was the reality I’d be well served to better understand. I interact with a wide cross-section of professionals across industries and it’s in my interest to communicate in a way that doesn’t lead to negative misperceptions.

No doubt some of the men in that room had stereotypes in their minds that I challenged. No doubt I went into that session with my own set of biases that influenced how I showed up (my presence) and impacted the way I was perceived. None of us are exempt, unconscious bias is present in us all.

I acknowledged that it was possible that I had encountered a roomful of unconscious bias.

I also acknowledged that it was possible that I had not.

Knowing that feedback is a gift and lessons often come in disguise, I tamped down my defensiveness and set off in search of the lesson.

Not all drivers of perceptions are under our control, but some are. Our communication style is a major driver of perception and it is ours to adjust. Ours to enhance. Ours to elevate. I asked myself whether there was an aspect of my language use (verbal and non-verbal) that could have contributed to the misperception that I was aggressive.