Remembering to check your perceptions is incredibly important when interacting with others, especially in the workplace.
There are many situations that can quickly turn negative and result in conflict if we fail to check our perceptions in conversations with others. This is especially true when it comes to performance management, feedback, and having difficult conversations with employees (such as underperformance).
In this article, we’ll discuss ways in which you can check your perceptions to ensure positive outcomes in your dealings with employees and coworkers.
One Factor That Influences Perception
Where do our perceptions come from? To answer this, it’s important to understand some of the basic mechanics of our mind. To keep it simple, we’re just going to refer to the widely accepted conclusion that we have a subconscious part to our thinking.
This subconscious part of our mind is like our own personal library that contains all of what we will refer to as our ‘life stories’: the stories of all the experiences and knowledge and beliefs that we’ve developed until this very instant in our lives. Now, quite frankly, we are all hoarders in the library of our minds. In many cases, we shelve every story. Like hoarders with belongings in a home, we may not use all of the stories in our subconscious mind all of the time; we may not know where all the stories are; and we may not even remember the majority of the stories that we have, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t still have an impact on how we live. (Or better said, how we perceive!)
The flow of information into and out of our subconscious begins with an input from the outside world through our senses, so we see, hear, smell, taste, and/or touch something or someone. As soon as the input gets through, we immediately begin to interpret – cross reference – the input with our life stories in our subconscious. This is our way of making meaning of the world. Most of the cross-referencing occurs at rapid processing speeds of thousands of miles an hour, without any conscious awareness. Following this, we typically have an output, which includes our perceptions.
To go a little further into the pages of our brains, our life stories not only contain nonfiction, but they also have some fiction, which quite honestly, can also take the form of far-fetched fantasies. Whether we know it or not, admit it or not, like it or not, we have some incorrect, missing and made up information in our brains. We don’t always check-in the best books or all the books needed to become part of our minds library.
Since perceptions can be synonymous with estimations, beliefs, and judgments, we need to be careful with attaching values of right and wrong to our perceptions, both our own and others. This also applies to our workplaces and our perceptions on performance. Here are some common mistakes with our perceptions that can cause challenges with relationships:
- We see ourselves as innocent, and we see ourselves as the hero, and this usually means that we see someone else as guilty and the opponent.
- We usually see those that are closest to us as innocent and heroes as well, which means that we usually see those that are furthest from us, in connection, beliefs or roles, as guilty and opponents.
- Our first impressions become firm impressions, and we close our minds to change.
- We accept information as correct that supports our opinions and reject information as wrong that is contrary to our opinions.
- We go with the first side of the story, what is available and/or obvious.
- We think that others get our intent.
- We think that others get their impact on us.
To minimize these mistakes and help us to have the most accurate perceptions, we need to check out what we perceive, with an intention to understand and learn, with the eight steps outlined below. In our workplaces, this can be particularly important prior to jumping directly to communicating feedback and managing performance.
Eight Steps to Check Perceptions during Tricky Conversations
- State your intent for the conversation. i.e. “I want to check my understanding of how you feel about the meeting earlier today to identify if there’s anything I can do to improve the situation.”
- Outline a description of the behaviours that you sensed. i.e. “I saw you yawning, and checking your phone a lot…”
- Share your interpretation of what you sensed. (Remember this is your perception, not necessarily right or reality or fact!) “It seems to me that you’re tired and have a lot of work to do, or you weren’t interested in what we’re talking about.”
- Describe your feelings and/or the consequences. “I’m missing your contributions to our team and discussion. I also feel you’re distracted.”
- Identify your wants. “I want you to be more involved, as you have a lot of value to add.”
- Request clarification. i.e. “Is everything okay, or is there something that I need to know?”
- Express appreciation at the end of the conversation. i.e. “Thank you for clarifying.”
- Assess any further resolution needed. i.e. What future steps are needed by all people involved, including you?
Checking our perceptions prior to jumping directly to communicating feedback and managing performance helps us ascertain whether we may be wrong in our assumptions or may have missed something the first time around. It gives us an opportunity for greater learning and understanding, and perhaps most importantly, better relationships.
What perceptions could use checking in your life?
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not of The HR Gazette or its team members.