The 7 Pillars of Perception
By Howard Boorman
Obviously there are many different ways to look at perception (or many different ways to perceive how we look at things, if you like!). We’ve identified seven “pillars” that we’ve found useful when exploring how we all perceive our world differently and how these perceptions impact how we relate with others. These seven pillars are, Perspective (or position), Principles and beliefs, Past experiences, Prejudices, Pre-conceived ideas, Presumptions and assumptions, Preferences.
We look out onto the world through our pillars, and all our communication has to pass through them and then through the pillars of others. They act like filters, both at our end and at the other end. They also support us in our way of being in the world.
The more our pillars are misaligned with the pillars of another person, the more our view of them, and their view of us, is blocked. Full misalignment effectively creates a wall that blocks communication. When the space between us is filled with the pillars, it’s almost impossible to make contact with the other person.
On the other hand, if we see the world in largely the same way as another person, we’re more likely to find communication easier. Have you ever had the experience of talking with someone and realising they know exactly what you mean, even without you needing to explain the point in detail, or vice versa, i.e. you seem to get them and they seem to get you? That comes from having pillars that are largely aligned.
One problem is that often we don’t see our own pillars very clearly. Developing better awareness of our own pillars improves our ability to communicate.
Perspective (or Position)
Often two people are looking at a situation from a completely different philosophical position or physical perspective. Even subtle differences in position can give us quite a unique perspective.
Sometimes, both physically and metaphorically, it can be very useful to move to someone else’s position to get their perspective. As a first step this is usually a lot more helpful than trying to drag someone around to look at things from our perspective. And it’s almost always more useful than the way we often operate, i.e. insisting our way of seeing things is the only valid approach! Not surprisingly, however, once we’ve made a genuine attempt to look at things from another person’s point of view, they’re often much more willing to take a look at things from ours.
Principles and beliefs
What we believe about the world has an enormous impact on how we see the world and how we experience events and people. We often judge ourselves and others by the principles, or rules, and beliefs we live by, or think we should live by.
Often there are beliefs or rules we’ve absorbed rather than adopted by choice. Usually then we use these to judge ourselves and others without full awareness. These beliefs and rules are often referred to as ‘shoulds’ and can have a significant impact on our perceptions and our communication.
Bringing these ‘shoulds’ into our awareness, and making more deliberate choices about which principles we want to live by, can help us lead more satisfying lives and be less judgemental of others. It can also help us communicate much more effectively.
To make sense of a current situation, we usually need to be able to connect it with something we’re familiar with. When communicating with other people we can tap into this by using things they’re familiar with, e.g. referring to similar situations or using similes and metaphors.
In addition, our past experiences of people and events can colour how we experience what’s happening now. If someone we’re working with reminds us of someone else, it’s easy to assume they have similar characteristics, e.g. have you ever met someone who reminded you of your mother or father? Being aware of this can help us see the person for who they are, not who we imagine them to be.
This is similar to how we treat experiences, often responding to a situation inappropriately out of habits we’ve developed from past experiences. Being aware of how our past experiences may be affecting our current perceptions can help us deal more appropriately with the present.
In addition, past experiences that have led to ‘unfinished business’ can affect how we view ‘now’. This may be unfinished business with the person we’re dealing with, in which case working to complete the unfinished business may be important. Or it could be recent unrelated unfinished business, e.g. something that upset us before we got to work which means we may be coming from a place of irritation. Even if we can’t immediately complete the unfinished business, just acknowledging its impact to ourself and the other person can be helpful.
We all carry prejudices of some kind. Often these are ones we’ve not examined closely or are almost completely unaware of. Almost always these prejudices are unhelpful, especially when dealing with someone who triggers them.
Being aware of our prejudices and ensuring that they don’t get in the way can make a big difference to how effectively we communicate. Naturally this can be challenging, especially if these prejudices have been ingrained and are linked to deeply held ‘shoulds’. And the degree of challenge is often directly linked to the value of examining our prejudices.
Coaching can be useful to help us deal with our own prejudices at work. If deeply held prejudices are impacting significant relationships or how we lead our life, then therapy is likely to be useful.
It is also important to recognise that unless people are open to coaching or therapy, often little can be done to deal directly with deeply held prejudices of others; except for taking a principled stand against prejudice wherever we encounter it, and making appropriate use of tact, understanding, laws and corporate policies.
Often we go into situations believing we already know something about the situation or the person involved. This can be one of the biggest blocks to seeing things as they are.
Recognising and setting aside these pre-conceived ideas improves our ability to see things more clearly and communicate more effectively. It is also worth being aware of what pre-conceived ideas other people may be coming with.
Presumptions and assumptions
What we presume or assume is happening is often wide of the mark. So, operating as though what we’ve presumed is the case can be one of the biggest stumbling blocks to successful communication. A common example of this is assuming the people involved in a discussion are using the same definition for a word or term.
Being aware of, and checking, our assumptions brings clarity to our communication. You can also be on the lookout for what other people may be presuming and encourage them to check their assumptions.
What we like impacts how we listen and experience things. We often focus on the things we’re most interested in and ignore things we’re not interested in.
What we think about other people and how we respond to them emotionally affects how we see and hear them. The more we like someone, the more we’re likely to be favourably pre-disposed to what they say. Conversely, the more we dislike someone the more likely we are to respond negatively to what they say.
In addition, most of us have a preferred way of learning or taking in, and storing, information. If you stop for a moment and think about your best friend, you’ll probably find you either got a picture in your head or felt something emotionally or physically. Less common, but equally valid, responses is to ‘hear’ the person’s name in your head or to immediately check through questions such as ‘Do I have a best friend?’ or ‘Is it appropriate to have a “best” friend?’ . This example points to your preferred way of learning or dealing with information, i.e. visually, through your body, through audio channels or through a kind of binary ‘yes/no’ process.
People with a visual preference generally respond better to seeing things done and to diagrams. People with a body preference generally like to get in and have a go and can be impatient about talking about things. And people with an audio preference like to talk things over. All of these can impact our perceptions of others, especially if we have significantly different preferences. Although it is common for people to see more value in their preference, it’s important to recognise that most of us use all of these to some extent and that they are all equally valid.
Being aware of our preferences and how they’re likely to impact our communication is an important step in improving our ability to communicate. It can also be very useful to be aware of the preferences of the people we are communicating with.
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