Monday, 12 September 2011


The way we see the outside world, need not be the same as the world really is. We tend to see the world as we want to see it. Reality is not what it seems. We do not see reality; we interpret what we see and call it reality. We hear what we want to hear; we see what we want to see and we forget what we don’t want to remember. We never forget to do what we really want to do; we forget to do only those things which we don't like or want to do. We don’t really see or hear; we perceive. Perception, like beauty, lies in the eyes of the observer.
Perception is the process by which we organize and interpret the stimuli received by us through our 5 senses, to give meaning to our environment. We perceive what gets registered in our mind. Understanding perception helps us to understand and manage ourselves and to manage others’ impression about us. 

Three main factors determine our perception. The first one is self – the perceiver. The way we see the world depends on our attitude, our motive, our interests, our past experiences, our prejudices and expectations. Two students in the same class may view the teacher’s ability differently. In a social gathering, a plastic surgeon is more likely to notice an imperfect nose than is a banker like me! In the presence of a dog, a dog-lover would experience a positive feeling whereas a person who hates or fears dogs would experience a negative feeling. A third person who is indifferent to dogs would not experience any feeling. And the dog remains what it is, a dog! To take another example, when a a poet, a botanist and an entrepreneur come across a beautiful flower, they see it differently. The poet may think of composing a sweet poem about its beauty. The botanist may think of tearing it into parts, to understand its physical structure. The entrepreneur may look at it and wonder if he could develop a good market for it.

Talking of prejudices takes me to my experience when I was appearing at the Test for Admission to M B A Course. A question in this Test was like this:
Presume that the plus sign + means division, the minus sign – means multiplication, the multiplication sign x means addition and the division sign % means subtraction. With these changed signs, do the following sum.
45 + 34 x 2 – 7 % 3 = ?

Can we do this sum as easily as doing it with the signs with conventional meanings?
This is similar to what prejudices do to us. Like the conventional arithmetical signs, prejudices are deeply embedded in our mind and it is very difficult to shed them while seeing or judging situations or people.

The second factor influencing our perception is the target being perceived. For example, in a group, loud people are noticed and listened to better; extremely attractive or extremely unattractive people are noticed more than ordinary-looking people; moving objects are noticed better than stationary objects (That is perhaps why young ladies and girls prefer danglers as ear-rings and older ladies wear fixed studs on their ears!). In the same way, we notice better, objects which are lager than we do smaller objects.
The third factor is the situation. We notice subordinates wasting time when the boss from the Head Quarters is in the town, more than we do on normal days. A Bank Branch received a windfall deposit of a huge amount just after a new Manager took charge. It was a walk-in deposit and a pure coincidence but the bosses perceived it as an indication of the business-capturing ability of the new Branch Manager! Three employees left an organization in quick succession, for different reasons soon after a new boss took charge but it was perceived that there was something wrong with the new leader.

Thus perception is always selective.

A lady went and complained to her neighbour that the latter’s son was ringing the former’s door-bell frequently and then running away. The second lady argued that her son was not doing any such thing but the first lady did not stop quarreling and accusing the boy of all kinds of mischief. Just then another resident of the same building came and hearing what was being told, said to the first lady, “I have seen your daughter frequently coming out, ringing the bell and rushing inside.” At this, the frown on the first lady’s face disappeared and smilingly she said to the visitor, “You know she is such a playful and fun-loving little girl.” Then she hurriedly withdrew into her apartment.

Also, there are two things which are called ‘Halo Effect’ and ‘Horns Effect’. Halo Effect refers to the effect of one single good characteristic such as intelligence, sociability or appearance, in the mind of the perceiver in drawing a general impression about an individual. Angels, Gods and Goddesses are believed to have a halo around their faces. If we are struck by a single impressive characteristic of a person, it puts a halo around the person and influences our total impression about him or her including his/her other characteristics which may not be that impressive. The person is perceived to be a strong personality even in his/her weak areas.
Just as angels are supposed to have halos around their visages, devils have horns on their heads. When there is one ‘rotten’ aspect in a person’s character or personality, it makes him a total devil in our mind and vitiates our whole impression about him even on traits where the person is likable or strong. If the boss is not happy with an employee about the latter’s performance in one major area, it creates a permanent block in his mind and the concerned employee is condemned as a non-performer even in areas where she performs well. In an interview, as the candidate entered, the Chairman of the Interview Committee noticed that a button on his shirt was missing. Even though his performance was very good, the Chairman thundered, “When he cannot manage a button, how can he take care of the Company?”
And, there is what is called the Gallo Effect. The billionaire wine-maker Ernest Gallo used the power of perception to a great effect. He would pour two glasses of wine for potential buyers telling them that one cost 5 Cents and the other, 10 Cents. Customers invariably chose the second one without knowing that the wine in both the glasses were from the same bottle!
Most consumers treat the price of a product as an indicator of its quality. Clever marketers use this to boost up profit. A company manufactured a new lock of very good quality and decided on its price by following 'Cost Plus' pricing system in which the price of a product is decided as a little above the cost of its production, taking into account other expenses and a reasonable amount of profit. To its disappointment, sales were low. It hired a consultant to do a market-study. The consultant did a market survey and advised that the price be trebled. Reluctantly, the Company did that. To its pleasant surprise, the sales zoomed! The consultant explained that the original price being relatively low, the product was perceived by potential buyers, as being of low quality. Higher price 'meant' better quality!!!

Since perception is always selective, it affects our communication. Often, what a person wishes to convey does not reach the receiver in the same form. It gets distorted due to some elements in the speaker and some elements in the mind of the person to whom the message is conveyed. This leads to a lot of misunderstanding and communication gaps. The speaker may mean something but the other person understands something completely different!
Once we accept that there can be different view-points from which to perceive the same thing, we can manage our emotions. And once we manage our emotions effectively, we perceive better, our relationship with our bosses, peers, subordinates, spouses and all others improves automatically.

Understanding perception helps us to understand and manage others’ impression about us. Since perception is always selective, we can think how we can manage others’ perception about us. Before we say or do something, we must take time to think how our words or deeds will be perceived at the other end.

Here is an example how a situation distorts perception. An accomplished danseuse was to present a well-planned dance number. A mischievous person planned to spoil the effect. Before start of the programme, he put a small stool in one corner of the stage, placed a glass tumbler at the edge of the stool, half of the base of the glass remaining outside the surface of the stool, and fixed it with the help of transparent adhesive tape to prevent it from falling off. At the end of the show, most members of the audience, when asked, said they had not observed the intricate nuances of the dance. Their attention was fixed on when the tumbler would fall off the stool!!

The key words are worth repeating: we do not see reality; we interpret what we see and call it reality.

The following poem 'Blind Men and the Elephant' by John Godfrey Saxe presents the matter succinctly:



 A picture of 6 blind men feeling an elephant for the first time and what they are imagining in their minds.

John Godfrey Saxe's ( 1816-1887) version of the famous Indian legend,

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approach'd the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, -"Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he,
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

Tail Piece

Wife : Have you seen what your neighbour does?
Husband : No. What is that?
Wife : He kisses his wife daily before going to work. Why can’t you do so?
Husband : How can I do that? She doesn't even know me!

2. It was a 'hit and run' case. A car hit a pedestrian and sped away. A policeman arrived. He asked the pedestrian whether he (the pedestrian) had noted the number of the car. The answer was "No." Then this conversation followed:
Q. What was the colour of the car?
A. I was under trauma and have not noticed the colour?
Q. What was the Make of the car?
A. I have not noticed.
Q. Who was driving?
A. A lady. She was young and beautiful. She was wearing a pretty saree. She wore her hair  
     long. She had a cute black mole over the left side of her lips.

Moral: We don't see reality. We see what we want to see. We hear what we want to hear.    


  1. hahaha ... lesson learned from the tail piece :P


    You have perceived it perfectly :)))))))))))