Trevor, a leader of an organization contacted me to formulate a separation letter for one of their members. According to him, an investigation was done, and they were satisfied that they had sufficient information to make the separation. Trevor, who had already concluded that the member was guilty of the alleged offence, went looking for information to support his conclusion. He found exactly what he went looking for – but was it the truth?
Trevor shared his findings with Sue who also concluded that the member was indeed guilty and went looking for information to support her conclusion. She questioned the same people that Trevor questioned, and got information to support her conclusion – but was it the truth?
When Trevor contacted me and presented his findings, I concluded that the theory was based on perceptions. I suggested that an independent party conduct an inquiry. The objective being to unearth the truth. I suggested that no leading questions be asked and that all terms and phrases used in the inquiry be explained.
Want to guess the outcome? The same people who Trevour and Sue got information from to support their conclusion, the independent party got information from to vindicate the member.
Peter Druker said “People look for the facts that fit the conclusions they have already reached. No one ever failed to find the facts he is looking for.” Peter Nalaw Yatimue in an article titled “The risks of negative perceptions,” said “Perceptions are not absolute truths, facts, or reality. We are easily tricked into believing anything that we see, think, feel, or imagine as the absolute truth, ignoring all else.”
Welcome back to the perils of false perceptions. Alan Saks and Gary Johns noted that there are three aspects of perceptions – Perceiver, Target, and Situation. “The perceiver refers to the individual who is perceiving or observing a situation or object. The target refers to the object or situation that is being perceived. The situation refers to the context in which the perception is taking place.”
Everyone has perceptions and yes, our perceptions sometimes influence our decisions. However, perception becomes dangerous when we become so absorbed in it that it alters our moral compass, and we lose our sense of judgement. There are several factors relating to the Perceiver including motive, belief system, expectations, experience, and self-concept. Today we take a closer look at self- concept.
Self-concept influences the perceiver: A quote by Anaïs Nin best describes this, “We don’t see people as they are. We see people as we are.” If you are a cheater, you are inclined to believe everybody cheats. If you discuss the business of your organization in your inner circle, you are inclined to believe that everyone does the same. If you are a revengeful person, you are inclined to believe that everyone around you is vindictive. You seek to find reasons to support your assumptions.
For example, Carl has anger issues and gets worked up over the slightest thing. Every time Carl perceives that an employee has reasons to be offended, he goes looking at the employee’s WhatsApp status, Instagram, Facebook or TikTok posts, expecting to find what he perceives is a reaction to the situation. Whether the employee’s post is because of the situation or not, Carl is convinced that it is. On the other hand, someone who does not take people’s negative behaviours personally are less likely to perceive that everyone is inclined to take things personally.
False perceptions foster resentment, anger, hatred and a host of negativity and these tendencies often mislead perceivers into thinking that we are always right. One way to mitigate false perception is to surround yourself with people who reframe your thoughts instead of those who feed your ego.
Until next week when we look at “leadership and the danger of false perception” I leave you with this personal experience: A few years ago, I joined an organization and during an initial chat with a member,
I was cautioned about the reckless tendencies of the leader. The member was inferring that her experience with the leader was everyone reality. My response was “I have not experienced that side of him and therefore, I choose to see him in light of my experience.” Several years later, I was on the receiving end of his reckless behaviour, and the member came to reminded me of her conversation years prior – it was one of those “I had told you so and you remembered what you told me?” I responded, “yes and I still stand by my response. I prefer to operate from an informed place. I spoke based on my experience then and I can speak based on experience now.”
Don’t assume. To perceive infers that you can read people’s mind.
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