4 Tips To Understanding and Using Perception Science To Be A More Effective Leader
Anyone who has been in leadership knows that people seem to interpret things differently. Even though we all may be looking at a set of facts, have the same knowledge in a situation, they come to different conclusions about how to solve a problem, prioritize, or have different interpretations of what they are actually seeing. Is everyone else just not as experienced or educated to see things the right way? As attractive of a thought as this may be, science points to a different conclusion. In fact, you as a leader are engaging in the same process of those around you, using your own unique filter of perception.
Neurologically, each human brain has been operating off of it’s own virtual reality system through perceptions since the beginning of time. Perception is the organization, identification, and interpretation of sensory information in order to represent and understand the environment.1 With somewhere around a 100 billions neurons with each having 1000 connections, perceptions are inherently individualized based on nature and nurture factors. The senses do not act like an open highway of unbiased information straight to the decision centers of the brain. Far from it, in fact each input from the environment is reconstructed and relayed through a series of networks before it is sent to the “analytical” part of the brain2
To exemplify this, a study asked 5 people who witnessed a robbery recount the series of events. Each recalled different facts and opinions about the story, and over time these facts and opinions blended and solidified into their own version of the story.3 Thus, each of these 5 people recalled different accounts of events that continued to diverge over time. We reconstruct the memory of the situation based on perceptions and emotions, recounting these situations through those perceptions and frames when prompted.
How can we use this to become a better leader? We have developed the ability to understand complex relationships, and in fact down to the neuron level, have the ability to empathize, giving insight into other’s experiences and a small window into their perceptions.4
Managing perceptions is at the core of emotional intelligence. So, being an emotionally intelligent leader requires you to understand how perceptions work, how your own perceptions bias your judgment, reading your audience’s’ perceptions, and using these inputs to foster an environment that acknowledges differences of opinion and perception but strives for a shared understanding and ultimately a cooperative effort to obtain a desired outcome based off that shared understanding.
1. Understand how perceptions work, and how you can use them:
Perceptions are unique to an individual and can’t be changed through force, mandate, or external correction. The tricky part of perceptions is they make ultimate significance in trying to influence behavior, but it’s nothing you can control, measure, define, or externally manage without it changing 1 minute later. Why? Because perceptions are driven through emotional engagements. Although uncontrollable, perceptions can be influenced over time through experiences, interactions and engagements. Engagements that spawn positive emotions over time will be welcomed, whereas those encounters that solicit fear, pain, frustration and sadness will be approached with corresponding preconceived notions in the future.
2. Know your own perceptions:
Through self-reflection and identification, you can better understand your preconceived notions, and in turn the keys that will drive your own perceptions. Asking the question “Why am I reacting like this” and “why do I feel so strongly about this” can help illustrate those drivers influencing your own perceptions. Through introspection, you’ll likely find a complex, fluid and complicated combination of previous encounters/experiences/emotions and current environmental factors. Chances are, if you have reacted positively to a situation or experience previously, you’ll be predisposed to perceive that situation through a positive frame again. Here is a great tool to help you understand how and why you react the way you do.
3. Reading your team’s perceptions:
Perceptions are unique to individuals, but individual perceptions, expectations and reactions are what create your ever-so-important work culture. Team perceptions can be read through emotional awareness observations, and culture and climate assessments. 360-degree reviews, climate surveys and team assessments can all help to better understand the culture of your team environment. Once you can understand and define your team’s’ current culture and perception climate, you’ll be much better prepared to understand how to cultivate this organizational culture to maximize effectiveness.
4. Using team perceptions to build your culture:
Perceptions can’t be changed, omitted, dictated or controlled… but can be developed and grown through attention to emotional intelligence. By engaging the emotional factors in the human brain, self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, motivation and social skills are trained through practice. The beauty of perceptions after all, is they can be changed, adapted, and developed over time. By leading the emotional intelligence example within your organization, you can demonstrate the culture you want to see, and by gentle encouragement and dedicated attention you can use these perceptions to help drive the organizational changes you want to see.
Humans boast a tremendous amount of neuroplasticity – the ability to learn new things, change perceptions, and adapt thought processes. Focusing attention to develop these skills and perceptions provides the opportunity to influence the culture that drives and motivates your workforce. Dedicating time and attention towards effectively identifying and measuring your team perceptions, culture and climate, can provide one of the most influential tools to developing your organization. In fact, it’s so fundamental that after developing these skillsets to develop your team, you can apply these same lessons towards customers, clients, consumer bases, investors, and external entities. After All, we’re all human, and perceptions don’t just matter, they’re the foundation for decision-making. Learning to overcome these challenges is critical to sustainable success.
Spencer Horn is the President of Spencer Horn Solutions. You may be interested in these additional topics: How To Improve Your Leadership Under Pressure; Is The Fundamental Attribution Error Destroying Your Team?; One Reason We Struggle With Emotional Intelligence; One Reason A Healthy Culture Is Important