There are numerous stimuli trying to attract peoples attention, and people pick out the stimulus which seems important and ignore the others. Perception is the sensory experience of the world around people and involves both the recognition of environmental stimuli and actions in response to these stimuli. (Wagner, 2005) It means perception can not only create people’s understand of the environment around them, but also let people to act within the environment. People from unknown to know the things would experience a process of perception. Through this cognitive process, people gain information about the stimuli, make sense of the surrounding, and give meaning to environment. However, different individuals have different views on the same thing, the quality of perception depends not only on the experience, education, personality, and training of the perceiver, but also on the way they organise, process, and interpret the stimuli reaching their senses. (McKenna, 2000)
Organizational manager can get benefits from the understanding of the process of perception. When organizational managers pay attention to the people and phenomenon around the workplace, they will gain and analyse relevant information as much as they can, and gradually perceive people and phenomenon in surrounding. As perceptions influence behaviour, managers will know how to cope with the specific affairs, the relationships in workplace and so on. They can improve their performance and contribute more to the organisation.
This essay starts by introducing the process of perception. The framework for perception is usually including a three phase of selecting, organizing and interpreting information. Each step can determine the grasp of information and translate the raw information into mental cognition. Then this essay will point out that an understanding of the process of perception can bring various benefits to the organizational managers. Especially, it can help managers better do decision-making, performance-appraisal system design and communication with others.
The process of perception
In daily life, people can contact with many stimuli. However, they cannot attend to all stimuli and may pay attention to the salient ones. Usually, everything in environment that has the potential to be perceived is called the environmental stimulus, while the specific object in the environment on which people’s attention focused is attended stimulus. (Wagner, 2005) Such as a HR manager in a position of interviewer has a number of applicants from which to choose. He/she will eliminate some applicants, arrange remainder have an interview, and choose the appropriate ones.
The perceptual process is a sequence of steps that begins with selective perception. Selective perception amounts to picking out the stimuli that are most likely to be important and ignoring the others. (McKenna, 2000p.141) There are two main factors determine people pay attention to salient stimuli, which are called target characteristics and individual characteristics. (McKenna 2000, cited in Clarkson 2009)
On the one hand, certain types of target characteristics affect people’s attention, such as size, repetition, position, colour, novelty and contrast. More specifically, (1)Size. Large size tends to attract attention to big extent because of conspicuous. Take advertising for example, increasing the print size of an advertisement will increase the odds of gaining the consumer’s attention. (Finn 1988, cited in McKenna 2000p.141) (2)Repetition. If people notice the information more than one occasion, they may get deeper expression and become familiar with the information. (3)Position. A popular position can gives a thing advantage, which is why stores are located in a selected place and goods are displayed in particular part of a store. (4)Colour. Colour is often used as a device to attract attention and portray realism, which can emphasis the attractive features of a product or create a suitable atmosphere. (McKenna, 2000p.142) As a workplace can use suitable colour to create special work environment in which employees have an intense feeling or comfortable feeling. (5)Novelty. People usually tend to pay attention to the distinctive things. For example, the project with notable advantages or an interviewee with outstanding speciality would more easily to appeal manager to choose. (6)Contrast. Some things will stand out due to contrast, like novelty easily to attract manager, because manager have a compare and find one is better than others.
On the other hand, individual characteristics can also influence the selective attention. (1)Personality. Personality influence individual interests and attitude, which also closes to determine individual’s attention. Take personality and shopping interests for example, more males are interested in cars while more females will tend to clothes. (2)Motivation. Perception is selectively affected by personal motives because people pay most attention to stimuli that appeal to fairly intense motives. (McKenna, 2000p.147) McKenna (2000) also mentioned that people’s perception of the stimulus could be acute where a stimulus is related to a need deficiency. To employees, the work related to high payment or well-being will more attract their attention. (3)Prior opinion. Previous learning creates a tendency to pay attention to familiar patterns. For example, in the process of interview, manager usually choose the interviewee depends on previous learning, some satisfied or dissatisfied experience in previous all will influence the choice.
When people pay attention to the specific stimuli, the information is still not been perceived. Perception is necessary for people to categorize what it is they are sensing. In this step, the raw information should be organized. Organized perception is a remarkable achievement when one considers that the information which reaching the sense receptors is confusing and disorganized. (Eysenck 1993, cited in McKenna 2000) People’s ability to organise their perception of individual stimuli into a coherent whole can be affected by particular situations, or blocked by the poor presentation or masking of the stimuli themselves. (McKenna, 2000p.156)
Gestalt psychologists point out that the “whole is more than the sum of its parts”, which can also applied in perceptual organisation. Like when an employee’s performance is appraised, the past performance and recent performance complement each other and help the manager to organise the overall information. Repetition of a message also contributes to perceptual organisation. (McKenna, 2000) For example, some problems may turn up in workplace. At first, these problems may be tiny and easily ignored by manager. But the problems emerge repeatedly; they would be bringing about the organisation of the manager’s perceptions. In another case, perceptual organisation with respect to the features of interviewees affects the HR manager’s decision when comparing him/her with competitive ones. HR manager will pick out some interviewees from others when has an organized overall perception of the interviewees—-from aspects of personality, capability, attitude and so on.
The perceptual interpretation will be made after information organised and before an appropriate response can be made. Perceptual interpretation relates a stimulus to the individual’s cognitive context which consists of various thought processes, ideas, and feeling about environment. It is a primary determinant of perception and response, because it embraces such phenomena as people’s needs, goals, values, education, and training, and accounts for the selectivity in perception that was referred to earlier. (McKenna, 2000p.156)
Sometimes stimuli are not interpreted accurately because there are several factors can distort perception. These pitfalls can easily arise and lead to misinterpretations.
Halo effects and horn effects. Halo effects is a tendency to rate someone high on all factors due to the impression of a high rating on some specific factors. By contrast, horn effects appraise someone low in all aspects because of a low rating on some specific factors. (DeCenzo and Robbins, 1999) For example, manager read a reference letter before an interview describing an applicant has many advantages to fit the job position. It can make manager have a positive expectation on the part and lead them to attend more closely to information that confirms this initial impression than to information that disconfirms it during the interview. (Arnold et al, 2005) This kind of information which can lead pre-judge the outcome should be avoid to give, however it is possible to some extent.
Recency and primacy bias. It affects concern the tendency for information presented early or late in a sequence to dominate people memory and judgement. (Arnold et al, 2005p.206) In performance appraisal, because managers rarely keep detailed notes about their employees, there is a tendency to base appraisals on the recent past, regardless of how representative it is of performance over the year. (Bach, 2005p.302) For example, a manager who knows an employee made a mistake in work just before an appraisal meeting might find it difficult to ignore the incident, despite the employee had consistently good performance over past year. It is unfair to perceive a person lopsided and do the judgement so subjectively.
Impression effect. Most research is concerned with how assessors make sense of targets and the assessee is typically viewed as a passive participant in this process. (Arnold et al, 2005p.229) Actually, assessees are always seeking to make an impression on the assessor. It takes into account how the employee influences the relationship with his/her supervisor. When the employee “positively impressed his/her supervisor,” the outcome was seen as a higher performance rating. In other words, high rating the performance depends on how managers like them. (DeCenzo and Robbins, 1999)
Similarity error. This is the tendency to see others as having characteristics more like people self own than is really the case. (Feshback and Singer 1957, cited in McKenna 2005) Managers are easily evaluating others based on what perception they have of themselves. (DeCenzo and Robbins, 1999) Therefore, those who demonstrate the same characteristic with manager may tend to benefit, while others who lack it may be penalized.
Central tendency. Sometimes managers perceive persons keep away from the extreme features. It directly leads managers assess the employees avoiding the high and low extremes on a rating scale regardless who are appraised and what traits are used, the score always in the middle. (Hope and Pickles, 1995)
Crony effect. This is the result of the perception being distorted by the closeness of the relationship between the cognizers and the percepts. (Forde, 2009) In appraisal process, when a manager assesses an employee who is his/her friend, so he/she could know the employee’s performance not only in work, but also in life. This can influence the consequence of the work performance appraisal to some extent.
Stereotyping. It is a tendency to simplify the characteristics of groups and attribute them to all group members. People generally hold preset images of other people based on their category memberships. (Arnold et al, 2005) Everyone relies on stereotypes, although they may not be aware of it. However, when people rely on the stereotyped image and ignore critical information of individual, the biased perception will arise. To managers, they should consider that to what extent their impression of others is based on stereotype alone and make adjustments accordingly.
Attribution theory. Attribution bias is a tendency to prefer one type of explanation over the other. The attribution error occurs when judgements are made using only with limited information. One perceptual explanation for the bias has been that people are more aware of situational factors that influence behaviour than observers. (Arnold et al, 2005) Take assessment for example, assessors are more likely to attribute an assessee’s behaviour to personality than circumstances. (Herriot 1989b, cited in Arnold et al 2005) Usually managers consider that the employee’s poor performance due to them lack motivation or capability rather than manager’s own failure to provide conditions.
Benefits for manages
From selecting to interpreting stimuli, people can understand the stimuli comprehensively and deeply, and then work out the appropriate response. For organizational managers, understanding the process of perception can gain several benefits, especially on decision-making, performance-appraisal system design, and communication with others.
The perception in decision making
In organisation, when the manager know the factors which can influence people’s attention; and they will know how to attract people’s attention. That is to say, managers can make the appropriate decision for the organisation. For instance, manager should make a decision to promote their new product to public and appeal to the consumers. If manager understands the process of perception, he/she will work out a series of plan such as put a big advertisement board on a location of large population movements, repeatly broadcast the advertisement on TV during peak viewing time, and contrast own product with similar competitive brand. Meanwhile, managers understand the important of selective attention will know different individual should be motivated in different ways according to individual personality.
Unappreciated decision works out usually due to without considering all the factors. In organization, the wrong decision may affect the products and employees, and managers are supposed to make the reasonable decisions possible for the business. In workplace, managers perceive from their work situation will influence their behaviour more than the situation itself will. (Hroot, 2008) Fully understand the situation can help in the process of making decision. Organizational managers in step of perceptual organisation will put all relevant information together, and enrich the content of stimulus which they focus on. The more information they consider, the more roundly outcome they will create. Managers think about numbers of factors critically in process of decision-making, the result could be satisfactory.
On the whole, when managers face a situation to make a decision, they can improve their decision making when the understanding the process of perception. First, they need to analyze the situation. Combine the facts and sort them to know what are dealing with. Second, pay attention to biases. Although the subjective biases are inevitable, they can reduce into minimal. Last, enhance the creativity and find out different ways that might be better and more effective. Managers may develop alternatives to a situation and the review them and find the one they feel will be most effective.
The perception in performance appraisal system design
Effective performance appraisal systems could be made when the organizational manager understanding the process of perception, especially when they pay attention to the subjective biases.
In performance planning, managers should understand the organizational objectives and performance measures. It needs a discussion between managers and employees, in which managers and employees should pay attention to and make consensus on how the employee should do the job, what results the employee needs to achieve, how about the rewards to employees and how about the training and development plan.
In performance execution, managers should keep detail notes of each employee’s performance on time to avoid the recency bias. If managers rarely keep detailed notes about their employees and appraise them only base on recent past, the performance over the year would be meaningless. What is more, managers and employees should review the performance against the performance planning regularly to ensure the problems can be solved in minimal size. Managers also have responsibility to provide conditions motivating employees to performance well and solving the problems as soon as possible.
In performance assessment, the main thing is to remove subjective bias from analysis and judgment. Managers should avoid the subjective to most extent, not judge employees on personal preference or past experience.
In performance review, the information can help managers to amend the organizational objectives and performance standards. Employees review the appraisal from subordinates, peers, supervisors and the customers, which compare with self-appraisal, can understand self performance comprehensively.
The perception in communication
Perception is an important part of the communication process, and perceptual problem are frequently encountered in organisation which are often relate to as communication problems. (McKenna, 2000) As perceptual problem easily arise in the relationship between manager and employees, manager should devote to perceive the employees deeply.
Managers can focus on people’s personality, culture difference, habit and so on. For example, when a manager knows an employee’s personality, he/she will know how to communicate with this employee better; when a manager knows an employee’s motivation, and their conversation can focus on that motivation.
To enhance the communication between manager and employees can improve the workplace relationship, and good relationships create the good work environment, which it good for the work outcome.
The main processes of perception are selective attention, organisation, and interpretation. And there is also an appropriate response should be made after people make sense of the stimuli.
Many stimuli can attract perceiver’s attention, when people pay attention to one thing, they will naturally concerned with a series of information into an organized whole. And after organizing the information into a stimulus, it has to be interpreted. Various biases should be avoided when do interpretation, such as halo effect and horn effect, recency and primacy bias, stereotyping and so on.
To understand the process of perception can provide the organizational manager several practical benefits. However, it is important for manager to avoiding errors in person perception. One the one hand, they should take more time to collect and consciously use more information about people and avoid snap judgements about people. On the other hand, they should check their assumptions and develop self-awareness of personal biases and preferences. (Clarkson, 2009)