One of my favourite topics to discuss on any training course, whether that be on management development, leadership development, team development or sales development training courses is Perspective. It is a favourite topic because, firstly when people understand how it works it can have so much movement as part of people’s development. My other reason, it is one of those things that everyone does exceptionally well, operating from their own perspective.

To connect to the people around us effectively we need to first understand how we perceive the world and then how others perceive it.

Our Perceptions 

We all see and experience the world through our own filters. Our perceptions are coloured by what we know and what we believe; by the labels that we use to describe the things we see around us every day. This belief and knowledge system we create is often called our ‘wold view’.

A way for us to understand the concept of ‘word view’ is to think of it as a map. Think of attempting to arrive at a specific destination but you have been given the wrong map. There was a download error on the map you got and instead of London you have a map of New York, but it has been labelled London. You are now the only person looking at the map, no one else can see it or appreciate it. Think about how frustrating it must be as you try to navigate your way to the destination.

If you keep hold of the wrong map, all that will happen is you will get lost quicker. Self-help books, coaching, the people around you often say to adopt a positive attitude. This can help, but if you still have the wrong map all that will happen is you will be happy while you are lost.

One approach to look at new maps is to examine your own mental maps and avoid being too attached to your current world view. It is important to be open to change and able to understand others maps. In Management and Leadership roles this becomes so much more important. A lot of Managers and Leaders that I work with have found it hard to accept that someone else might have a better map, a different world view.

We can disagree and both be right

You may have seen a similar image to this before, trainers and facilitators love it. Take a look at the image and think about these questions:

  • Do you see a woman?
  • How old would you say she is?
  • What does she look like?

Every time we show this picture to a group on development workshops, more often than not, a discussion will develop over the age. Everyone is very sure of the age they have guessed, they stand strong, adamant of their position. This is when people begin to get passionate about the image and describe certain elements. Someone will point out the woman’s necklace, somebody else will dismiss and point out the that it is an old woman’s mouth.

Gradually the difference of opinion, different points of reference begin to focus, and more and more people look at the image objectively to see the two images. Eventually everyone will be able to see everyone else’s point of view. One of the most common comments we get is ‘I can only ever see…’ typically one of the women and not the other. Look away from the picture now and look back again. What do you see? The first image you saw? Often people report back that they see the image they have conditioned themselves to see first and it takes a minute to find the other image.

So, it is true that one image can be perceived as an old lady AND a young lady. We can disagree on what we see and yet both be right.

A lifetime of perceptions

Every single experience we have ever had, our family, our schooling, friends, associates, environments are influencing and conditioning our perception. This influences our world view which becomes a set of biases and the source of our behaviours, beliefs and attitude; ultimately affecting our relationships with others.

The Perception Ladder

In his book ‘Overcoming Organisational Defences’ Chris Argyris explained this concept in a great, easy to understand way. He uses the concept of the ‘Perception Ladder’, an internal ladder we climb up. Chris Argyris explains that our perceptions are based on the self-generated beliefs that are often kept and remain untested. These beliefs are based on conclusions we have drawn. Our conclusions have been gained from our observations and past experiences. Stepping up the ladder creates our perceptions and will result in the action we take. More often than not backing up what we perceived would happen because we haven’t made any significant change.

We go up the ladder within our mind, in reality we observe data and have experiences. From this data and experience we become selective and make value judgements, these are based on our past experiences. Once we have done this, we then identify patterns and add meaning to them. We then start to draw conclusions having an impact on both our emotions and our physiology. When all of this has been done, and it happen really fast, we have created our map, the world view that is unique to our self. We call this going up the ladder, it is useful to note that because we have all had different experiences then we all have different ladders.

We see what we want to see

In reality, we see what we want to see. We get what we expect to get. In order to change the outcome, we need to change our perception of the situation. This is applicable in any given situation.

When managing a team member how often are you doing this through your own world view, or adapting to their world view?

When communicating with others how often do you hear what you want to hear and not what they have said?

Take some time to sit back and think about the perception ladder and how you can use it to better communicate with the people around you.