Warping Reality at Work

We are stubborn creatures. We hold to narratives and ideas and let them inform our behaviour even when faced with vastly opposing data. I’ve talked about this before but it’s important to clarify what role this plays in our day to day life.

There is an idea that has been going around for some time called “Warping Reality” or “Reality Distortion Field” and depending on who you read it was either coined in the 80’s with Apple or the 60’s with Star Trek. The basic premise is that through sheer mental force of will you can change the way people perceive things.

I am going to talk about it in a slightly different context. Warping reality in the context I’m going to discuss it means our propensity to base behaviours on ideas/feelings formed in the past and are insensitive to contemporary data.

Whew! What a mouthful.

First Impressions

Let me unpick it a little. The workplace is somewhere were we are forced to deal with other people with whom we may not have very much in common but have to overcome those differences in order to function. We have to interact with people we wouldn’t have a beer with. As such we have no real interest in becoming bestest friends with everyone in the office and indeed social relationships remain largely superficial and convivial.

We make first impressions based on ridiculous things but they are nonetheless important for our behaviour. We don’t take the time to evaluate a person on a case-by-case basis. We decided a long time ago how to deal with a person and we then engage in that “schema” every time we meet someone. This is both advantageous because it frees up mental energy, but it also causes problems because we get stuck in a pattern of responding.

Vital Importance

If you are trying to change staff behaviour – either towards you, each other, or their work – this is vital to understand. People will respond to you, each other, or their work not based on how it is presented today, but how it was presented a long time ago.

This is the Reality Distortion Field in effect. 

Our view of other people and our work is distorted by prior perception. So how do we fix this?

Well the first thing we can do is prime people. Tell people things are going to change, this gets them focused on what is happening now.

Second you have to work on providing explicit consequences for targeted behaviours. By explicitly providing positive consequences for specific behaviours you reset reality and give people a NEW view of how things work.

A warning

Reality distortion will still be in effect. It’s just you’ll have changed the focus. You have to keep on top of these things and guard your own thinking as well.


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