Perception is reality

January 01, 2013

While many would quickly disagree with this article's title, it is in fact something by which most of us unconsciously live. If we truly perceive something to be true, then it generally becomes our reality.

One of the premises of psychology is that thoughts lead to actions. Those involved in advertising certainly understand that. Their goal is to sell a thought to the extent that it becomes one's reality. Their campaign is successful when one acts on that reality and purchases the product or service. Whether positive or negative, such is the power of perception.

When asked to describe the above picture, nine out of ten people immediately determined that a young man was breaking into a car. Is that perception or reality? While it may be a very convincing perception, it is conceivable that the person is female, maybe not that young, and not necessarily up to mischief just because he or she is wearing a hoodie. Perhaps the person has locked him or herself out of his or her own car, or it is winter and the lock has frozen.

Similarly, perception can impact other forms of communication, such as an important meeting or a casual conversation. We base our actions on what we believe to be a reality, but how do we ensure that it is not just our perceptions that is driving our decisions? Think about what can happen to the communication process when each member of a group has a different reality.

Unfortunately, that is often what happens when planning a business transition. In fact, a lack of communication is cited as one of the main causes of an unsuccessful transition to next generation of ownership and leadership.

As the sixth of our seven complexities facing those in business together, it is important to find ways to improve the communication that is essential to a successful transition of a privately-owned or family firm.

Understand the complexity

While maintaining good communication within a thriving business is a challenge in itself, the numerous communication channels created as a family and/or business expands adds to the complexity exponentially.

Communication is a relatively simple process when your business is a one- or two-person operation. At that size, a two-way communication system between you and your partner or spouse is likely sufficient to discuss all family and personal issues, ownership matters, and the day-to-day requirements of the business.

Compare that to the communication required for your business to function today. In the image below, instead of just two channels between two people, you would need six channels for four people or 13 channels for six people. A total of 21 exchanges of information might be required for a relatively small group of people.


In its basic form, communication is the flow or exchange of information from one person to another. It is the four-step process illustrated below whose effectiveness depends on how well Step 1 equals Step 4.


For any exchange of information to be truly effective, the information received must be interpreted and understood exactly as the sender intended. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. As both the sender and the receiver, we naturally filter our messages to compensate for our perceptions. However, if the outcome and the relationship are truly important to us, we can learn to base our realities on facts instead of perceptions.

The following are five techniques for increasing the effectiveness of your communication.

  1. Be insightful
    Empathy is essential to good interpersonal skills. Good communicators are able to see others' perspectives and are adept at interpreting the need behind the messages delivered.

  2. Deliver a clear message
    Effective communication requires the ability to deliver a clear verbal message both orally and in writing. Both the choice of words and the delivery mechanism should be tailored to the receiver. Additionally, as only 7% of a message is received verbally, it is even more important to consider visual and other non-verbal methods of delivering your message.

  3. Be assertive
    Getting your point across with respect, but without fear of angering or hurting others, is a skill set of assertive communicators. A non-assertive communication style (passive or aggressive) often indicates a low sense of self-worth.

  4. Practice active listening
    While listening is important, it must be more than passive listening. Active listening is communicating that you truly understand a speaker's message using techniques such as mirroring and reframing.

  5. Recognize feelings
    Good communicators are comfortable with discussions that involve feelings or sensitive issues. They appreciate their own or others' vulnerability. They understand that, for communication to be successful, feelings must be acknowledged.

Regardless of whether you plan to sell to someone within your business or to an external party, no transition can succeed without effective communication. It is important to develop appropriate forums for all the communication to take place. The goal is to create an environment where people can obtain the information they need, as well as be encouraged to participate in the exchange of ideas.

If you would like more information on setting up the types of structures that encourage more effective communication, please contact your personal BDO advisor, or call our BDO Business Transition Services team at 1 800 598 6400.

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