Perception refers to the way we perceive our environment by organising, identifying and interpreting sensory information in order to make an appropriate action, so as to understand the environment. Perception thus involves, creating an experience of the world around us, so as to survive and interact with it.
Process of Perception
The process of perception is thus a sequence of steps, which begins with understanding the environment through sensory input of a stimuli and generating an action in response to the stimuli. This process is a continuous and an involuntary process. (Kendra Cherry)
Step 1: Perceptual Input
An individual’s perception is based on two main factors
Disposition of the perceiver: where individual organize and interpret the situation based on his/her past life experiences and tries to relate it with the current scenario in order to find a feasible solution also called Broad Representative Theory (BRT). This is further extended to internal state of the person, relating to his personality, motivation and previous learning (Eugene McKenna, 2006)
– An employer can effectively put different motivational theory into practices according to the maturity of his employee’s. It is observed that Hertzberg theory of motivation is broadly considered in creating a healthy work environment. It is proved that attention of a person can be captured by strongly threatening stimuli, like a ‘pink slip’ or ‘golden parachute’
– Employees from different orientation perceive a scenario in different manner. Japanese employees tend to focus more upon the process and tend to be perfectionist as against to the US employees who focus on the outcome, and are generally cost conscious. (Gung Ho, 1986)
External Stimuli: Majority of the perception is based on the external sensory stimuli, where individual relies upon the information provided by the five sensory organs and perceives accordingly also called Strong Direct Realism (SDR). This also describes certain physical stimuli which are prominent than the other and dominantly comes into picture.
– In various organisations, notices and warning are presented on vibrant color paper, so as to draw the attention of employees. Efficient use of External Stimuli can be observed in the Japanese management technique of kanban, where a process chart using different colored and shaped papers is used to illustrate a particular process.
– Cues are direct stimuli, which indicates on the expectation and facilities provided by a particular name or a symbol. A symbol of cross, generally represents a hospital, Starbucks all over the globe have same logo, so as to promote the brand as well as the product.
Fig 2.2 Huczynski & Buchanan, 2001, pg215
Thus perception becomes a psychological and cognitive process, which is subjective in nature. It affects the outcome of our behavior and it is important for the managers to distinguish between ‘perceived world’ and ‘reality’
Step 2: Perceptual throughputs
Gathered experiences due to relevant stimuli proceeds to organising, simplifying and retaining of the data. This data changes according to an individual. The data thusly is organised based on perceptual organizers like, ambiguous figure, Gestalt law of organisation, consistency, visual illusions and applications of perceptual organisations. (Eugene McKenna, 2006)
Perceptual Organising: The organising step of the empirical data gathered, is “innately organised and patterned.” The principles on which it is done are,
Figure and ground: Where a geometrical pattern or ambiguous two or three dimensional figures often form a reversible relationship with the perceiver. This principal has application in nearly all the occupational scenarios, where employee need to distinguish between the significant aspect of a job (the figure) and other miscellaneous elements as binary (background).
– This principle is used by the employees to determine their priorities and distinguish between the more significant and less significant aspect of a given job. Employees who are unable to prioiritise often find themselves in work load and stress.
Proximity Grouping: Grouping laws of Gestalt psychology formulated in 1923 stated by Max Wertheimer explains the organisation of parts into wholes by a particular visual system. According to the law, “elements close together tend to be grouped perceptually so that the array OO OO OO OO tends to be perceived as four pairs rather than eight separate elements”
– Majority of the disputes between union and the management arises due to proximity grouping, as the union perceives a situation from a different perspective and management from the other. It is the responsibility of the management to differentiate between groupings and identify the core problem.
– The impact of cultural differences in perceiving different styles of reading can be observed for proximity grouping. Chinese and Urdu alphabets are read from right to left, which creates a disability to read in a regular pattern.
Closure: The mental ability to perceive and complete an incomplete action or a situation or an incomplete figure based on your past experience or level of understanding of the situation is closure. According to Gestalt theory, the habit of making meaningful assumptions about our environment is a reflex action. This helps to perceive a whole picture instead of random disorganized groups.
– Concept of grapevine originates from the ‘principle of closure’, as false rumors in an organisation are based upon similarity principle.
– Attitude towards ageing workers is generally that, they are not as productive as the young worker. But according to Walker and Taylor (1998), older people had been having increased opportunities with regard to employment and promotion due to their experience.
2. Interpretation: Having gathered and organised the perception, it is necessary to interpret it accordingly before giving an appropriate response. (Starbuck & Mezias, 1996). Individual interpretations depend upon cognitive contexts like, ideas, thought process and mainly are based upon the life experiences. It is a primary factor for the way of perception and response of the perceiver, as basis of perception are formed on the basis of our needs, goals, values, education and training. (McKenna 2000, 156)
– Mergers and acquisition are always interpreted as a negative process, even though they may be happening for hostile outcome, like technical skill or advance orgasnisational skills, mergers are interpreted for downsizing, redundancy and clashes of management and employee relations. This process can be interpreted in a positive light, by the managers by describing the process of merger and other complementary decisions. Employees can be made aware of the opportunities happening due to the merger and can be trained on how to take the process in a positive aspect and develop through mutual gains.
– Case studies and role plays are important to get analytical over view of the various interpretation followed by different employees. This helps in getting a diverse view of a situation. Interpretation is a powerful tool for an organisation, as it differs from person to person and gives a lateral approach to a situation.
Misinterpretation is a common mistake in case of different perspectives of interpretation based on level of perception, past experiences and sensory inputs. It arises due to the fact that the stimuli are on a different dimension than an individual’s information-processing capacity. Misinterpretations are prevalent in the case where there is conflicting evidence due to lack of training or knowledge, or the work process or an inability to analise the situation due to insufficient stimuli or experience. (McKenna 2006, pg.157)
– Arguments and individual differences are common cause of misinterpretation at the workplace. In such a scenario, a manager should be able to listen to each side of the argument, and must be able to draw a conclusion based on all the facts and figures without being biased and judgmental.
Different forms of misinterpretation arising at a workplace are
Implicit personality: This concept is based on the cognitive thinking ability of an individual. In this, people have wide variations in comparing and understanding other people. As implicit theories, differ from every individual according to the cultural background and education. Complimentary attributes to the perceiver’s central personality are generally perceived pre-dominantly (Dornbusch, Hastorf, Richardson, Muzzy & Vreeland, 1965)
Culturally diverse teams may have a problem in understanding the working patterns of their group members, due to the diversity in nature of work done, actions and commitment level.
Halo effect: In this theory, a single favorable or unfavorable trait of the perceived person is considered as a basis for the impression which tends to ignore the relevant characteristics and traits which are important for the particular task or process. A single trait is considered for all the future assessment of that particular person.
This trait is a common misinterpretation amongst the manager, and can be avoided by not being judgmental about a particular employee. Halo effect is prevalent during the performance appraisal of an organisation, where the latest achievement or failure of an employee is considered by the manager as a basis of his performance. A combination of different appraisal systems like 360 degree feedback or Behavioral Anchored Rating Scale (BARS) can be used to avoid this type of misinterpretation.
Stereotyping: A standard viewpoint, based belief about the characteristics, attributes and behavior of a certain group (Hilton & Von Hippel 1996). It can be stated as the process in which the perception is based on simplification and judgmental approach and ignoring the appropriate stimuli of the subject. (Mullins, 2005)
Stereotyping can be further classified into different types based on the occurrence of misinterpretation by the perceiver
Representation: Describes how stereotypes are represented
Formation: When and how stereotypes are formed
Maintenance: How the stereotype is maintained throughout the process.
Application: How stereotyping is actually to be applied.
Change: How the stereotyping approach can be changed.
Stereotyping in an organisation can lead to disharmony among the employees and high level of stress due to discrimination due to misinformation. This can also hamper an employee’s self esteem as the abilities are underestimated and ignored. Stereotyping can be reduced by Team working, Cultural audits, Communication a holistic approach and open feedback
Attribution theory: This theory assumes a cause or motive for the particular behavior of a person. They are likely to be incongruent with the prior expectations of the perceiver (Kanzawa 1992). When the judgment is based on a memory, perceiver tend to rely more on behavior at the time of abstraction rather than on the abstraction (Srull & Wyer, 1989; Heider 1958) Perceiver generally in the attribution process until they have a appropriate reasoning for the actions of a particular behavior. (Hilton & Von Hippel, 1996)
Employees who perceive external factor are reluctant to take up new challenges at a workplace and generally classified under Theory X type people, than the people who attribute their success to themselves. Attribution theory, thus can help managers to achieve a higher employee performance and managerial effectiveness by identifying the attributional factors.(Heider 1958)
3. Selective Retention: A perceiver tends to retain the stimulus which reinforces the beliefs, decisions, attitudes, values, and expectations. Because of selective retention, only the beneficial points of a stimulus are recorded by the perceiver, thereby ignoring the vital aspects. Retention of a perceiver is based upon the long term memory. Factors that influence long term memory are: (Derek Lane, 2005)
Recency of time: Recent stimuli are registered quickly than past actions.
Frequency of use: Frequently used stimuli are retained than the least used actions.
Emotional context: Stimuli which have a important emotional connection are retained than regular stimuli
Weirdness/Uniqueness: Weird or unique stimuli are retained more frequently than normal stimuli.
– In an organisation, important dates like performance appraisal, feedback sessions, and activity logs are retained better than the project completion date, or monthly report date. These dates are modified according to a retention element, like prior to holiday.
– In a communication channel, selective retention is observed on a large scale, where the perceiver decides to listen and retain, only the information which is beneficial to him. This leads to a distortion in the original message. A written format for the message, along with the verbal can help reduce the selective retention.
Step 3: Perceptual output.
After observing the stimuli and undergoing various stages of processing the stimuli, interpreting information for an appropriate output in form of response and actions is generated. The response stage of every individual differs depending upon the level of stimuli, perception, experience and other related factors.
Retrieval: Information which is processed is stored in the memory of the perceiver and must be retrieved at the appropriate time to be used effectively and accurately. The retrieval process depends upon the inputs of the perceiver and the ability to interpret and integrate the information in order to make a decision or form a particular judgment about the stimuli. Thus, a person racks his memory and assigns particular meaning to the data based on its similarity to any previous data, and retrieves the action for it. A different retrieval for a same condition is never possible for the perceiver, as the time and space continuum differs for every situation.
Action: “The final step of the perception process involves a set of reaction to the environmental stimuli.” Action face generally involves some form of motor actions which are in response to the recognised and interpreted stimuli. (Kendra Cherry) Actions of the perceiver are based upon the interpretation of the situation according to his sensory stimuli and past experiences.
An employer can effectively put warnings and fines in order to enforce any regulations in an organisation. As the employee can perceive the regulation as a form of mandatory action, as the memory retrieves the stimuli of “fine” and the perceiver acts accordingly. The system of attendance or littering the workplace can be enforced through a similar perception.
Benefits of the perception process in fields include
Communication: Majority of the problem in an organisation are prevalent due to a faulty communication process (McKenna, 2000). This process is generally distorted due to misinterpretation and faulty sensory stimuli of the perceiver. It is the responsibility of the manager to ensure a proper and confidential communication channel, keeping into mind all the cultural and diversity aspect of the employee. The perception in between the employees can be further reduced by role playing games, open communication, and creating awareness about individual employee differences.
Organisational Performance: It is based upon the MISSION and VISION of an organisation, which if interpreted wrongly can severely hinder the employee and organizational performance. It is the duty of manager to define and explain all the value system, the vision and mission of the organisation to each new employee. This can help the employee to understand the organisation and its goals.
Career Development: It is one of the major aspects in retention of employee. Each employee will have his/her unique career path according to the sensory inputs. A manager must consciously understand this career path by communicating with the employee and understanding their opinion, and should develop career path accordingly.
Learning and Development: A L&D program for a company is a costly affair, and each employee will have a different grasping and understanding capability depending upon the education and past experiences. An effective system should be such that, it should take into consideration the perception of the lowest performing employee in the program, so as all the employees can contribute and understand accordingly.
Performance Appraisal: An appraisal for an employee can have multiple biases depending upon his/her previous performance. Misinterpretation is prevalent while appraising an employee, like halo effect for a foreign employee, or stereotyping against women employees. This affects the appraisal system of the organisation. Managers should ensure a fool proof appraisal system, which consists of multiple techniques, or can introduce a unique system, tailor made for the organisation, so as to prevent biases and have a fair outcome.