Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Perceptions

“We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.” Anaïs Nin

As human beings, our decisions and perspectives of the world are informed by our experiences. Often, we make statements about things and events not realising that it is all about our perceptions. A colleague of mine hosted a seminar on perceptions and shared his experience as a conflict resolution practitioner about the role and influence of perceptions. He took us on a fascinating journey showing that in almost every instant of life we look at something and agree on what it is through our own filters – it is our perception. If we do not have the opportunity to gather further information, we will store it as our perception. The whole advertising industry is built on this notion of perception. If we see a certain colour and packaging, our minds associate a product with it, a perception that it is either a brand of quality or an item that offers attributes of quality.

So perceptions help us to filter the huge amount of information we are exposed to and to package it into smaller bite size pieces. The challenge though is, if we leave it at the stage of perceptions and do not seek more clarity, we create assumptions in our minds, which can ultimately result in stereotypes. This is, of course, most important when it comes to interpersonal relations. Getting clarity on the ‘she didn’t greet me this morning, so there is something wrong’ or ‘the tone of the email suggest that….’ So without the clarifying our perceptions we leave a lot of room to wonder. We will store the perception as a fact. Next time when we see the person or a similar situation arises, we already ‘know’ what it is all about. We start predicting behaviour and making assumptions. This is typical for very close relationships like marriage or partnerships ‘I know already what she is going to say…’ or ‘I know exactly what he is thinking and not saying….’ but also for work relationships.

The reverse would mean to seek clarity; to interrogate. This, of course, is hard work and as human beings we rather gravitate towards the easier option, to build upon what we already know. The challenge, if we don’t seek clarity, is, these perceptions stay real. Perceptions are real for the holder of the thought and so if we do not clarify, the perception remains. This laziness of mind, however, allows us to build an environment of false certainty around us. It is a ‘world’ that is fully confirmed in our minds. It is safe, limited and we know what it is all about. This false certainty is the biggest hindrance to progress and growth. One will not grow beyond the own perceptions, not open up to new options and possibilities.


There were many more points my colleague mentioned about type of perceptions and origin of perceptions. I would not do him justice to repeat it in a blog entry. However, the point of limiting one’s own growth by living in a world full of self-confirmed perceptions really fascinated me. How often have I limited myself to something new because I ‘already knew’? How many times did I preempt the behaviour of another person?

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