Effective Communication -Perception Skills

Improving skills of perception - improving insight and seeing what others cannot.

CPD Assessments
Effective Communication - Perception Skills

Effective Communication - Perception Skills

Case Study

Sabe Langa had a real problem and wasn’t sure what to do next. She had a lot of confidence in Arnold Chonco, but she was the only one who felt that way. Perhaps if she ran through the entire story again in her mind she would see the solution. Sabe has been the Career Development Practitioner at Umlazi Career Centre for almost twenty years. Sabe valued the importance of honesty and hard work and she now was one of the most respected managers in the company. Sabe had hired Arnold Chonco despite his history of petty theft and a short amount of time in prison in the past. Sabe understood how Arnold felt when he asked for another chance at life. Sabe decided to give him that chance. Arnold eagerly accepted a job doing maintenance work at the Career Centre. Things had gone well at first. Everyone seemed to like Arnold and he made several new friends. 

Sabe had been vaguely disturbed about two months ago when another worker reported his wallet missing. She confronted Arnold about this and was reassured when Arnold understood her concern and earnestly but calmly asserted his innocence. Sabe was especially relieved when the wallet was found a few days later. The events of last week however, had caused serious trouble. First, a new personnel clerk had come across records about Arnold’s past while updating employee files. Assuming that the information was common knowledge, the clerk had mentioned to several employees what a good thing it was to give ex-convicts like Arnold a chance.

The next day someone in bookkeeping discovered some money missing from petty cash. Another worker claimed to have seen Arnold in the area around the office petty cash box, which was open during working hours, earlier that same day. Most people assumed Arnold was the thief. Even the worker whose wallet had been misplaced suggested that perhaps Arnold had indeed stolen it but returned it when questioned. Several employees had approached Sabe and requested that Arnold be fired. Meanwhile, when Sabe had discussed the problem with Arnold, Arnold had been defensive and sullen and said little about the petty cash situation other than to deny stealing the money. Should she fire Arnold? The evidence, of course, was purely circumstantial, yet everybody else seemed to see things quite clearly. They had decided that he was guilty. Sabe feared that if she did not fire Arnold, she would lose everyone’s trust and that some people might even begin to question her own motives.

If you are called 'perceptive', it means that you are good at understanding things or figuring things out. Perceptive people are insightful, intelligent and able to see what others cannot. Perceive means 'to see'. Perceptive is a word to describe someone who is good at seeing.

The case study above deals with the way people are seeing Arnold, based on his past.

Perceptive, is a related term to perception.

Perception is a noun that refers to the way in which we organise, identify and interpret sensory information that we receive from the environment (stimuli).

Perceptive is an adjective and it refers to having awareness, insight, understanding or intuition.

Perception is based on our mind-constructed idea of the world, such that life reflects our held beliefs and opinions. Author, Gregory Berns states that, “perception is the brain’s way of interpreting ambiguous visual signals in the most likely explanation possible. These explanations are a direct result of our past experience.”

Life experience might give rise to a distorted view of the world, which is observed through your self-made filters. 

What does being perceptive mean?

The way to best understand perception is to think of your perception as a pair of coloured sunglasses. If the glasses are too rosy, we tend to see things in a rosy hue (optimistic/positive) and in the same way, if the glasses are too dark we tend to see things with a dark hue (pessimistic/negative).

The colour in the lens is created from your memories, thoughts and feelings, which is formed in childhood. Each person's sunglasses - the way they see the world - are unique to them. Problems can occur when we assume that everybody sees the world as we do.

We are all unique, shaped by our own worldview and a one-size-fits-all approach may not work in dealing with clients. For example, when a client talks about grief, the practitioner should try to set aside any personal experiences of bereavement and theoretical knowledge of the grieving process to try to understand the client. Keeping perceptions out of a session takes practice and there is no actual way of perfecting it. One needs to make an active daily attempt and this is what defines a competent practitioner.

Why is it important to look at how we see the world?

Problems occur in people's lives when we begin to think that how we see the world is how the world actually is. The glasses we wear 'tint' the world so we tend to see things through our experiences. 

The internal factors affecting perception are:

  • Learning 
Our past experience leads to the development of perceptual expectations or perceptual sets which give us tendencies to perceive and to pay attention to some feeling or emotion (stimuli) and to ignore other information.

  • Personality
Our personality traits also influence us to perceive the world in particular ways, to pay attention to some issues and events and human characteristics and not others.

  • Motivation
We are more likely to perceive and thus to respond to stimuli that we find motivating.

The main sources of errors in perception include the following:

  • Not collecting enough information about other people.
  • Basing our judgements on information that is irrelevant or insignificant.
  • Seeing what we expect to see and what we want to see and not investigating further.
  • Allowing early information about someone to affect our judgement, despite later and contradictory information.
  • Accepting stereotypes uncritically.
  • Allowing our own characteristics to affect what we see in others and how we judge them.
  • Attempting to decode nonverbal behaviour outside the context in which it appears.
How do we change perceptions if they no longer serve us?

  • Observe how your behaviour impacts others
Be honest with yourself. Notice how your behaviour affects those around you. How do people react to you in social circles? If your peers are not responding to you, perhaps your behaviour is making them feel pressured or uncomfortable.

  • Ask for feedback
Ask others how they see you as we might often miss something about ourselves. It requires courage and you may get some feedback that is hard to hear, but it is an important step in creating a new perception.

  • Make behavioural changes where necessary
Once you have some basic information, take small steps toward behavioural change. If you are the type who usually talks a lot in groups, try keeping absolutely quiet and taking notes for a change. 

You will notice that being perceptive and the other interpersonal skills cannot be separated as they are intertwined. In many instances we are defined by our perceptions of ourselves. We take this into the world with us. How we 'see' the world is not necessarily how others see the same space. Where we see a happy life and a blessed lifestyle, others may see hardship and poverty. Very often our perceptions are what leads to judgements and stereotypical thinking. Our perceptions act as our filters and the information that we receive goes through the filters. Sometimes when information is not consistent with our filters, the information is tossed out.

Career practitioners need to possess the skill of perceptiveness. Perceptiveness involves being mindful to others’ reactions and understanding why they react the way they do and being able to respond in an understanding manner. Perceptiveness falls into the group of social skills. It can be said that social perceptiveness is a kind of social intelligence. It is the ability to recognise what someone is thinking through some means of human observation. 

Career practitioners can learn how to be more perceptive by:

  • Learning patience and avoiding instant and snap judgements about others.
  • Collecting and consciously using more information about other people.
  • Developing self-awareness and an understanding of how our personal biases and preferences affect our perceptions and judgements of other people.
  • Learning about other cultures and keeping an open mind. Accepting that differences are a benefit.
  • Do not accept that your perceptions are reality. Your perceptions are only true for you not others.
  • Be respectful of others’ perceptions.
  • Do not hold your perceptions too tightly, they may be wrong (admitting it takes courage).
  • Recognise that there might be distortions within you that may warp your perceptions.
  • Challenge your perceptions as often as you can.
  • Seek counsel from experts and credible others (do not just ask your friends because they likely have the same perceptions as you).
  • Be open to modifying your perceptions.
Changing perceptions requires courage and for one to be honest with oneself. With awareness and deliberate intent to change perception and associated behaviour, many positive life changes can occur.

Shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 2.0 South Africa (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 ZA) 

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Kindly attribute as follows:

Beukes, C. J., Mahadave, K., & Kanhai, K. (2022). Professional Development Portfolio for Career Development Practitioners (1st ed.)CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 ZA, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/za/ 


Karuna Mahadave

Christopher John Beukes

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