When Perception is Not Reality! (To Thrive you Must Ask the Right Questions)

Have you ever made an assumption about a situation and found out you were completely wrong? Ron Prater discusses the importance of gaining the right information to make informed decisions, rather than just going off your perceptions alone.

One of our clients takes on the hardest, most difficult medical problems. Their business is truly one of life and death.

As I was leaving a recent meeting at our client’s office I stopped by the men’s room to, well, make sure I didn’t have an “accident” during my hour commute home…if you know what I mean.  While standing at the urinal I heard a guy in the stall (door closed) next to me make the following statements:

“Oh, God, that’s a lot of blood…”  

flush…wait a few seconds…

“I hope the doctor can fix this…”

flush…wait a few seconds…

“I can’t believe how much blood is coming out…”


He was speaking loudly enough that I couldn’t help but hear him and with each statement – and then a flush - you can only imagine what was going on in my head.  Remember, I am at a facility where global, ground-breaking medical research is performed every day.

“I wonder what horrible disease he has?”


“Is he dying?”


“Is whatever he has contagious?”


“His poor family. I hope they’re handling this okay.”

Needless to say I was painting a picture of his reality without having any details; only a few concerning words, the tone of his voice…and, well, lots of flushing.  My reaction was to wash my hands as fast as possible and stealth out of the bathroom before he could see me – I didn’t want to embarrass him or appear to be invading his privacy.  I also didn’t want to catch that contagious disease I imagined he might have!

Before I could escape I heard the stall door open.  I panicked.  Do I continue to look in the mirror while I wash my hands or do I look at my hands and then run out the door?

It didn’t matter.

The chef – yep, he was wearing a chef’s hat and apron – came walking up next to me to wash the blood off his finger! He looked at me with a smile and said “I really sliced it good this time.”  I had a hard time holding back my laughter as I realized all of my perceptions and assumptions, based on limited facts, were completely wrong!  I asked him if he needed any help…he said no…and I said good luck as I left the men’s room.

What does this mean to me? 

In working with many clients throughout my many years of consulting I’ve noticed that perceptions are not always accurate (I know I know…I’m stating the obvious!) and having the wrong perception(s) on an issue can be damaging to the organization or to an individual.  I’ve noticed that people, in general, are afraid to ask questions. I’ve noticed that, absent all the information we need to make informed decisions, we fill gaps in our knowledge or understanding with data that is not always right or even close to right.  We make up stories about intent.  We read emails incorrectly; often missing the intended sarcasm or assume people have thought more about their word choice than they have. After my experience in the bathroom I know that I’m going to focus less on what I perceive to be true – my assumptions - and more on the questions I need to ask to gain additional insight and information to find out what’s really going on.

As you strive to thrive I encourage you to:

  • Avoid being attached to your own perceptions as the truth;
  • Dig deep to unearth the true facts;
  • Ask questions to gain clarity; and,
  • Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know the answer.

Hopefully what you’ll find is that that bloody disease is only a harmless paper cut.