Collaborative Leadership Blog

Is Perception Our Reality?

There are things known and there are things unknown,and in between are the doors of perception.    Aldous Huxley

At a recent gathering of an Asian-African employee group at a global corporation, we discussed what constitutes “diversity”. An Indian woman suggested that perceptions were an important element of what makes us different. As we explored this distinction, it became clear that our perceptions, or how we view the world and others in it, are determined by how we were raised, our ethnicity, cultural heritage, and personal history, as well as events we have experienced. These “causal” factors shape our values, beliefs, assumptions, how we interpret reality and how we react to the people we work and live with. Our perceptions, or interpretations, become our reality—or Huxley’s door to the known.

But at work, what can get us into trouble is when we cling to our own views of reality and ignore the unknown door of perception. It is only when we walk through that door that we will discover the full truth about a person or a situation.

Where this becomes critical is when a leadership team is making a strategic decision about the direction of the company. A majority of the team shares one view, and the minority have very different perceptions of the situation. If the majority speed bumps the minority and does not go through the “unknown door” of perception, they run the risk of making the wrong decision. Only by exploring the perceptions of the minority, by engaging in a robust dialogue about their differences, will they discover the right path for their business.

Whether it is at the company, team, or individual level, we are stronger when we fully engage our differences, when we explore the other person’s truth about reality. Not unlike EQ, here are some steps each one of us can take to increase our PQ, “perception quotient”:

Be Humble: If we start from a place of humility and vulnerability, that we don’t have all the answers, we will create the context for a dialogue based on mutual understanding and respect

Stop & Reflect: When our position/view about a person or situation hardens, and we are humble, we can stop and reflect; we can check our own assumptions before drawing conclusions

Inquire & Explore: Now the unknown perception door is open and we can seek to understand the perceptions and realities of others, and explore their points of view

Co-Create: Together, you can now create a shared truth and a new solution

By opening the door of unknown perceptions, by being humble and self-reflective, we will create a new reality, but more importantly will build trust and mutual respect in our diverse relationships.


*Dr. Edward Marshall is an Adjunct Professor in Management at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University; he is an ICF certified executive coach, Lifetime Top 15 Trust Thought Leader, and best-selling author of Building Trust at the Speed of Change. You can contact him at or (919)265-9616