Have you heard the statement, “your perception is your reality”? I first heard the expression as a child from my mother. She would remind me to be aware of my thoughts, because they guided my choices. To quote Henry Ford, “whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.
Anais Nin stated, “we don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are” (Johnson, n.d.). As individuals, each person has their own perception of realty which they carry into the organization.
Perception is the process by which we select, organize, and evaluate the stimuli in our environment to make it meaningful for ourselves” (Osland, Kolb, Rubin, & Turner, 2007, p. 220).
It shapes the individual’s mental map and influences behavior.
In addition, perception guides an individual’s social identity, which influences the selection of their social group. While associating with a social group with similar dimensions can be positive through the enhancement of communication and building trust, it can also be detrimental when the group’s perception moves the group to be influenced by perceptual distortions.
Perceptual distortions also have a negative impact on the organization. The most common form of perceptual distortion is stereotyping which is “when we attribute behavior or attitudes to a person on the basis of the group to which the person belongs” (Osland et al., 2007). Stereotypes are a result of a limited amount of information, resistant to change in light of new information, and are rarely accurately applied to specific individuals (Osland et al., 2007).
For an example, a common stereotype is that poor minority parents do not value education and are not involved in their student’s education. The stereotype is based on an observation of the lack of parental attendance to school events. While on the surface the statement may seem accurate, it does not address the underlying causes of the problem for specific individuals; therefore it is a false perception.
The halo effect, primacy effect, central tendency, projection, and perceptual defense are also perceptual distortions. In each distortion, individual perception is based on the individual’s reality. Albert Einstein stated, “reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one” (Johnson, n.d.).
Leaders must confront perceptual distortions in order to maintain a healthy organizational climate. Education and communication are the keys to overcoming perceptual distortions.
Who is creating your perceptions? As a leader, we must embrace change in order to move our organization; however we must first address the impact of perception on our organization.
Dr. Kim Moore
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