Cheryl A. Moore, PsyD

CEO, Prestige Countertops & Services

Do you see the old woman or a younger woman?When you look at this picture what do you see?  Do you see the old woman or a younger woman?  Have you ever wondered how people can be in the same experience and yet describe the experience in different ways?  The differences between the descriptions can be attributed to how each person perceived the experience.  Perception, for our purposes, is an organizational behavior that is defined as the process by which we receive and interpret information from our environment.   Managing perception in the workplace is important because of the role perception plays in many organizational behaviors.  

In 1936, psychologist Kurt Lewin observed that people do not act upon the basis of reality, but rather upon their perception of reality.  Two factors that influence or distort perception include the perceiver and the environment.   An individual’s perception can be shaped by his or her attitude, culture, past experiences, and upbringing to name a few.  A setting and environment can also influence how a person perceives something.  For example, have you ever watched the television show Undercover Boss?  Taking an individual out of their element and position causes others to perceive the person differently than how the person would be perceived in his or her natural setting.  

Organizations employ a vast number of individuals who are from different backgrounds and cultures.  These employees bring different values, goals, talents, and purposes to the table; understanding these differences makes it easier to understand how as we process huge amounts of information daily, can lead to inaccuracies and cloud our perceptions. Some of the common perceptual distortions include:

  • Halo Effect – using our impression of someone to influence our overall feelings about the individual’s character.  Studies have shown that if we regard an individual as good-looking or successful, we also believe the person has other positive attributes like they are intelligent and kind.  We need be careful with this, so we are not overlooking individuals with great potential.

  • Recency Effect – using our most recent information to assess an individual.  Have you ever noticed after you buy a new car how many of the same car you see on the road, which you never noticed before?  Don’t let your most recent information on the individual cloud their older or future successes.

  • Primacy Effect – assessing an individual on the first information acquired.  We need to take the time to have a conversation with our employees and get to know them on a different level than on the role they play in our organization.

  • Contrast Effect – judging others on your most recent interaction with someone else.  For example, judging a job applicant on the applicant before them.  We should only be forming our judgments and opinions on an employee based on his or her skills and abilities, not others.

Projecting – transferring our own thoughts, feelings, and desires on others.  This is when good communication is needed.  You can have an employee who does not really care for you or another employee.  The employee can have a tendency to project those feelings toward you or others and assume you don’t like them either.  

  • Selective Attention – selectively focusing on the parts of a situation that most align with our own interests and values.  We can get so focused on our own goals and desires we are not seeing the whole picture of the situation.  We screen out information that contradicts our beliefs or causes us to feel uncomfortable.

  • Stereotypes – our fixed beliefs about the characteristics of a particular group.  

  • Self-fulfilling Prophecy – we have a preconceived idea about someone, or a situation, and we create an outcome that would align with our expectation.  This can tie into beliefs we have when stereotyping individuals.  

  • Impression Management – process of attempting to influence the perception others have of us.  We may portray ourselves in a way we think others want us to be rather than being our true self in all situations.  We have all heard of individuals “sucking up” to someone before asking for a favor or for something they desire.

Managing  perception in the workplace  is important because of the role perception plays in many organizational behaviors and outcomes.Recognizing perceptual distortions allows us to manage and communicate better.  Being a good leader means making fair and accurate assessments of all situations.  I worked in an organization where leadership would yell first and ask questions later, if at all.  One example is when a small group of employees were taking their lunch break outside of the noon time slot.  When a top manager walked by and witnessed this the manager reprimanded the individuals and walked away.  What the manager did not know, or care to find out, was the fact that these individuals worked on the paint line and were not allowed to take their break until the paint line was completely unloaded and stopped.  There are situations where it is best to not say anything until after gathering all the facts.

Perception in an organization works two ways.  It is important to manage employee’ perceptions as well.  When management does not implement and carry out policies to manage workplace conflict or workplace bullying, they are giving the employees the perception that they condone the bullying practices.  Communication and perception need to be at the forefront in every organization.  

I think it is worth repeating and considering — managing perception in the workplace is important because of the role perception plays in many organizational behaviors and outcomes. 

Cheryl Moore is the CEO of Prestige Countertops & Services, Inc. and an Assistant Professor of Accounting at Mercyhurst University.

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