Perception is Reality: Learning How to Adjust

Jun 11, 2012 Beth Monaghan

A career in PR is one part anxiety and one part triumph. The anxiety stems from a lack of control – at the heart of PR is a mandate to convince someone else to do something we desire. We must convince clients to agree with our recommendations, and then convince reporters that the news/point of view we’re pitching is relevant and worthy of coverage.

The convincing is the hard part. People come into the world with an innate aversion to being convinced. They feel the slightest push and they instinctively push back. However, good PR people overcome this many times each day through the power of persuasion, which hinges on a fundamental understanding of the tired, yet true adage, “perception is reality.”

How do these people persuade? They consider this question on an almost hourly basis: What is the perspective of the person I am trying to reach?

It’s that simple. If you can fully consider and adjust based on the other person’s point of view, you will be more successful in meetings, pitching the press, and interactions with your coworkers.

Of course, this is not as easy as I am making it sound. In PR, some of the things that make us good at our jobs (being fast on our feet, quick with new ideas, and talkative conversationalists) work against us when we’re trying to understand and hear someone else’s perspective.

It is possible, though. Following are some tips that I’ve captured from watching others do them well:

  • Be confident. On Mad Men’s “Episode 9: Dark Shadows” this season, Don Draper goes to a pitch with two concepts and leaves one (Ginsberg’s) in the taxi. His rationale? He never goes in with two concepts because it makes them both seem weak. Present your best possible pitch, and in the words of one of my favorite VCs, “It’s just as important to be convincing as it is to be right.”
  • Know how to bend gracefully. You went in confidently, but the reporter/client/prospect hated your idea. Now what? Have the grace to bend with confidence. If you slink away, you are proving that you weren’t smart enough to have a seat at that particular table. Being able to think on your feet, adjust your perspective in response to someone else’s input, and come back with something refined, or entirely new, is a crucial skill. It’s one that can earn you a lot of respect as well.
  • Really listen. If you are busy formulating your response while the other person is speaking, you aren’t listening. Listening requires focus, being fully present. And focus leads to a more thoughtful response that addresses the important nuances that often matter the most.
  • Become comfortable with silence. If you find yourself jumping to speak and then berating yourself later for rambling and forgetting your key points, stop. In his new book, This is How, Augusten Burroughs writes, “Think out loud, but don’t babble. Babbling is a form of insecurity and anxiety. It’s an intolerance for space, silence. Never be afraid of space or silence. They are merely the cool side of the pillow during interactions: a refreshing mental nap.”
  • Be yourself. Yes, that again. Authenticity conveys confidence. Your boss can coach you by giving you her words and points to make in an important meeting or pitch to the media, but if you try to mimic your boss, you will fail. Make them your own. Express them in your own tone, style, and words.
  • Don’t argue. Cultivate the judgment to understand when an idea or recommendation can be salvaged through adjustment and when it should be dropped completely and immediately. Once one side of the discussion digs in on his or her point of view, it’s over. By digging into the deep grooves of your own stance, you will only make the situation worse. Your audience’s perception is your reality.
Topics: Leadership, Public Relations
Beth Monaghan

Beth is the CEO of InkHouse, which she co-founded in 2007, and has grown into one of the fastest-growing PR firms in the nation with 100+ employees and four offices. Named one of the “Top Women in PR” by PR News, Beth is working to reinvent the PR agency model to bend it toward the kind of culture that catapults great ideas and jettisons the rules that no longer work. At InkHouse, Beth focuses on inventing and implementing the new strategies that shape the agency’s work. In addition to changing the PR profession, Beth is working to change workplace culture as an advocate for equal opportunities. A frequent contributor to Forbes and Fortune, she is widely cited in outlets ranging from NPR, to Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Huffington Post, Bloomberg and The Boston Globe. Beth was an appointee to Governor Patrick’s Women in the Workplace Task Force, and currently serves on two boards of directors as vice chair for the Alliance for Business Leadership and the vice president of the Massachusetts Women’s Forum. Beth spent six years learning the ropes in startup technology PR at Schwartz Communications and then moved on to venture capital firm Charles River Ventures before she went to The Castle Group, a generalist PR firm, for which she was a vice president. She studied PR, creative writing and journalism at Syracuse University and graduated from its SI Newhouse School of Public Communications.

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