5 Questions to Help Bridge the Intention/Perception Gap

I had the best of intentions. I simply wanted to add value to my colleague’s life by providing some feedback about a sales effort we had just completed together. His reaction however came as a bit of a shock. He became irritated and defensive. What just happened? It’s called the Intention/Perception Gap and it happens in almost every communication to one degree or another. What you intended one way was perceived another. It is the cause of the majority of our communication issues with others. If you have been married more than an hour you know exactly what I am talking about!

Why the Gap?

The reason this happens is that we each have a lens that we see life through. This lens is made up of your unique set of cultural identities, values and experiences. When I say “Cultural Identities” I mean your age, race, gender, national origin, religion, and many other orientations that make you who you are. Based on this set of cultural identities, value and experiences we have biases that cause us to tell ourselves a story anytime we receive new input.

Bridging the Gap

Is it possible to eliminate the gap between what I intend to communicate and what you perceive I am communicating? No, I don’t think so. However, if you ask yourself a certain set of questions I believe you can narrow that gap and increase the effectiveness of your communication across the board.

Questions #1 – Am I SELF-AWARE of how my communication style is perceived by others? How do others see you? How do you affect people when you communicate? So much of communication is non-verbal. Before you ever open your mouth people have a story running in their mind about you. You CANNOT assume that they “get you” and they “know your motives”, they don’t. You become self-aware.

Here is a short example of how you can see yourself one way and others perceive you differently:

You think you are           They perceive you are

Confident                         Arrogant

Quiet                                 Indecisive

Sensitive                           Needy


Question #2 – Am I Manipulating or Motivating in my communication? When we get in a hurry and when we have a lot going on, it is easy to shorten communication so that it is all about you and getting what you need done, done. This can be perceived as manipulative by others. When you can make your communication more about the team or about the other person it is perceived as more motivating.

Question #3 – Am I Competing or Completing in my communication? Are you trying to win, or be right? Or are you trying to help them, show you care for them and build trust with them? People know this and will react accordingly. I always like to ask myself what’s the purpose of this conversation? Am I trying to make myself look better or actually add value to the other person?

Question #4 – Am I balancing Care and Candor? This is a lesson from John Maxwell that always stuck with me. Are you balancing straight talk with care for the person? If you are always showing care and there is no straight talk then you don’t really have a relationship. On the other hand, if you are always delivering straight talk (candor) and never showing care, no one will want a relationship.

Question #5 – Am I communicating WHY? Going back to my giving feedback story earlier, if I had just explained why I wanted to share it with them they would have known that I was really wanting to help them succeed and grow. Instead, my feedback came across to them as I didn’t think they were any good and that they had failed. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Acknowledging that there is an intention/perception gap will go a long way to improving your communication with others. Being more intentional and asking yourself some of these questions will also help bridge the gap.