The Perception Gap

The Perception Gap

Is who you really are coming across, or is it someone you don’t intend to project?

You hear people talk about personal brand these days as if everyone’s the expert. Terrific to see the concept out there, but I do want to make sure imposters don’t lead you astray. I got to dig deep into the topic early this year with a personal brand pioneer. His teachings made such an impression that I want to give you an overview. Karl Speak founded Brand Tool Box in 1984 and co-wrote Be Your Own Brand: Achieve More of What You Want by Being More of Who You Are.

Perception ≠ reality

Speak shared the concept of the perception gap with me, and I was intrigued. He explains, “When your perception gap is narrow, you enjoy three important benefits: You will be given opportunities where you have the highest chance of being very successful; you will be trusted more by others; you will feel happier and more self-confident.” The catch? Most people think they control others’ perceptions. Speak bursts that bubble.

“Based on scientific studies, only about 25 percent of people accurately perceive you. And only 20 to 25 percent of your friends perceive you in the same way you perceive yourself.” When it comes to presence, these statistics are perilous for a personal brand, especially if you have no idea how you’re perceived.

Opportunity management

The data create a harsh reality for most people—whether you need to sell, convince others to make life-altering decisions or just need to get your kids to take you seriously, leaving 75 percent of who you are out of your sphere of influence won’t get much accomplished. The opportunity to grow your personal brand and narrow the perception gap is huge. Speak has an easy exercise for narrowing the gap: “Before you attend your next meeting, write down the three perceptions you want to leave with people. After the meeting, review each perception goal and write down evidence indicating the perception was created.” My coaching tip from here is to take your findings and apply them to your next meetings and encounters. Based on what you discovered, correct the negative and grow the positive.

Brand theme

Speak says successful leaders always want to narrow this gap. If greater trust from colleagues and clients is the result, it makes sense. For a more detailed approach, check out his site, where he shares a perception assessment. He put me through it, and I was able to get honest feedback (anonymously) from a cross-section of people in my spheres of business associates, friends, colleagues and clients.

Though much of the feedback was not extremely shocking to me, seeing it all in print caused me to really focus on wanting to make sure I am not leaving influence on the table, but using it to grow my own personal brand and improve the world for the people who count on me. It also helped me better understand my brand theme, as Speak calls it. If you were to take the assessment and your results showed a mish-mash of adjectives or no similarity among the words people use to describe you, that is likely a problem. A central goal of personal brand strategy is to make sure there’s no cloudiness about your brand, nor any distractions, especially distractions caused by you. In any formal or informal assessment, you want to see descriptor words fall into similar groupings; this says you show up authentically every time.

Confidence factor

“The perceptions you leave with someone can last for a long time or evaporate within minutes,” says Speak. “Making a difference with another person will ensure perceptions of you last a long time.”

So let’s focus on opening yourself up to the reality that you are possibly muddling a lot of your identity rather than taking charge of your own brand. Start by trusting who you are. Identify your many favorable traits. Then look at how you are living them out in the real world.

Are you the same person every day of the week for every person you meet? Or do you turn into Scary Sue at work compared with home, or Jealous Josh with your co-workers but not your boss? Have the confidence to grant yourself truly favorable traits and the honesty to own your challenging ones. Seek assistance from people you trust to turn around anything that’s hurting your personal brand. Your work now will pay off to narrow the gap and could produce the ultimate boost for your brand.

Roshini Rajkumar is a personal brand strategist and presence engineer. She is host of News and Views with Roshini Rajkumar on WCCO Radio and author of Communicate That! For additional communication tips, visit Interface with Roshini at