Is seeing believing? It should not be. Our perceptions can be superficial and incomplete. Car accident witnesses describe the same event differently. Architects, security personnel and employees see the same office, but what registers with them varies significantly. We see through our filters without even recognizing that we employ a limited lens. Being conscious of our own perception biases improves teamwork, engagement, and results. It can also improve communication with others.
We must recognize that we register a narrow slice of reality because we rely on what we already “know.” We like observations that confirm our past experience. And, this means we miss the opportunity to identify what is new and what is possible. These perceptional deficiencies can be overcome in several ways:
1. We have a perception deficiency that is best addressed by asking others what they see. The picture above illustrated that there are multiple accurate interpretations of the same reality. Some may focus on the white vase, while others concentrate on the profiles of two people. Accepting that there are other valid points of view increases our ability to understand reality as well as ensure that we see all that there is to see.
2. We conquer perceptual distortions by keeping our minds open and rejecting all stereotypes. Labels gloss over distinctions. They also encourage simplistic thinking and an unwarranted belief that we know all that we need to know. Stereotypes also reduce cooperation and teamwork. Kierkegaard captured this reality when he stated: “Once you label me, you negate me.” When we attach a label to someone, we stop paying attention to them. Labels transform the other person into one of “THEM,” which is an impersonal, and usually less respectful, abstraction. Stereotypes blind us as certainly as if we were wearing blinders. An every day, and all too common, example is using age to assume competency. Can a person over 40 really know how to handle IT problems? The answer is yes. It depends on their training, continued development and experience not their age.
3. Distorted and fixed perceptions are dangerous. Our world is becoming more complex, integrated and agile, and that static points of view limit our ability to collect information and recognize patterns. Holding onto a narrow view means we make mistakes because our actions are based on incomplete knowledge. Convinced in our accuracy, we refuse to adjust our views or consider other options. Instead of listening to different points of view, we prefer to have others just agree with us. When others realize that our mind is made up, they stop sharing information since it becomes a waste of their time.
We get our eyes examined to ensure that we see clearly. We must also test our perceptions. For as Thoreau noted: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” We must continually test our perceptional mindsets before we accept what we initially see as all that there is to see.
Dr. Mary Lippitt, an award-winning author, consultant, and speaker, founded Enterprise Management Ltd. to help leaders with critical analysis. Her new book, Situational Mindsets: Targeting What Matters When It Matters was published last year with a Foreword from Daivd Covey. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or https://www.linkedin.com/in/marylippitt/