Manage Perception in the Workplace
We look at different objects throughout the day and are continuously exposed to various stimuli like sense of hearing, touch, smell, etc. We in fact, are continuously bombarded with different stimuli, which we interpret in our way and behave accordingly. Thus, perception can be defined as a process wherein the individuals receive various stimuli, organize their impressions, interpret in their own way, thereby giving some meaning to the environment. Thus, perception during most occasions guides our behavior.
A schematic representation of the process of perception is shown above.
It includes various stimuli which are received or an individual is bombarded on a daily basis.
This stage essentially represents the processing stage wherein the stimuli are selectively filtered by an individual and taken ahead in the system. The filtered or selected stimuli are organized and taken further ahead for interpretation. Interpretation of a stimulus is very important as based on this interpretation only, would the individual display a behavior. It would be important to mention here that the individual would filter all those stimuli that are irrelevant here and would only take those ahead that are of interest to the individual or would pick up those stimuli forward which are important to the individual and the rest of them (stimuli) would be leveled to the ground. This, in fact is called the figure and ground principle of selection of stimuli. At times, the individual would select those stimuli, which are relevant to the individual and the rest of them would obviously be dropped.
The output here pertains to behavior displayed. This behavior, of course, could be desirable or undesirable for an organization. Hence, the significance of perception from an organizational standpoint is very essential.
From an organizational perspective, We don’t’ see things as they are but we tend to see things as we want them to see. Also, as mentioned above, we tend to be very choosy in selecting the stimuli like – size. Size does matter – as we have a tendency to select bigger things. Similarly movement or moving object also tends to attract our attractions. For example, a moving pendulum of a clock will tend to attract our attention more than a stationary clock. Repetitions also tend to attract our attention and help to change our perception. For example, if a teacher keeps repeating the same thing and lays focus on a point by repeating it, then, it is likely to be perceived more by the students. Similarly a colourful object is likely to be perceived more than an uncolored object.
Types of Perceptual Errors
There are a few perceptual errors which may disrupt the interpretation. Halo effect is one among them. In this type of error, an individual is perceived based on a single trait. In other words, a single trait may cast its influence on all other traits. For example, a person may have done some good work, some time ago which was highly appreciated by his boss. This deed by the individual might have touched the boss to such an extent that all other qualities, be it negative, get overshadowed by just one good deed of the individual. Such an error often finds its way in the performance appraisal exercise wherein the rater tends to rate an individual very high or very low based on a single trait, thus permitting a high degree of bias to creep into the appraisal.
Yet another type of error, viz. stereotype may disrupt the perceptual process. A stereotype, in its simplest sense would mean “typecast”. For example, a teaching faculty may stereotype that ‘back benchers are laggards’ or a boss may typecast that ‘athletes make up good salesmen’. Such types of generalized statements may influence the interview process for instance and may bias the interview ratings.
Projection is yet another important perceptual error which often creeps in due to incorrect perception of an individual. It is seen during interviews that when the panelists are taking the interview of a candidate, it is very likely that one or more panelists may see their projection in the candidate or in other words their likes or dislikes may be the same as that of the candidate and hence their interview ratings could get biased. For example, while probing the personality of a candidate, the interviewer may ask about the hobbies of the candidate, to which the candidate may respond with an answer which conveys a set of hobbies that is similar to one or more of the panelist. In such a situation, the interviewer is likely to see his personality in the candidate which may compel him to skew the rating.
Ways to Improve Perception
In an organizational setup, it therefore becomes imperative to understand how others perceive you as an individual. This will help you to interact with them or deal with them. Especially important is your role when you are handling a team. A team can be effectively handled by an individual if you know what is the perception of your team members about you? The clearer you are on this, the better equipped you would be in your interactions with them. This helps them to improve your perception.
Authentic communication is yet another method which helps in improving the perception. This, in fact, becomes very important as communication has to be proper and effective and needs to be understood by others in the way you wish it to be understood. It is observed that in most cases in an organization, incorrect perception is due to improper communication. Either the manager himself or herself is unable to communicate properly, as a result of which the subordinates form an incorrect perception or the team manager has communicated properly, however, for one reason or the other, the subordinates are unable to comprehend the instruction properly due to incorrect perception. In either case, the situation becomes difficult and the organization faces a setback.
Being empathetic also helps in improving the perception as it helps to understand the situation by keeping oneself in the shoes of others. It is recommended that managers must be empathetic in their approach in order to improve their perception about others. This would enable them to understand and handle their subordinates properly. Taking a step forward, it is often observed that excellent listening skills helps an individual to shape up perception. Simply speaking, if an individual is a good listener, then such skills go a long way in empathizing with others and plays a major role in removing perceptual disorders. It would not be inappropriate to mention that the way in which we perceive ourselves is the way in which we present ourselves.
Keeping a positive attitude also helps in improving the perception. For example, consider an employee who is not performing upto the expectations of the superiors and has since been a consistent failure, however, by keeping a positive attitude, he/she can take effective control of situation, thus preventing one’s perception to get distorted.
Reading other’s minds and assuming that you know the other individuals, often distorts one’s perception. An individual should therefore strive to improve self perception by understanding oneself and in doing so one may face resistance from others, which an individual should overcome.
Cultural influences also majorly impact one’s perception. An individual’s upbringing to an extent guides one’s perception. Though it may be difficult for an individual to change one’s perception, yet one should try to be flexible and accommodating enough to be able to shape up ones perception.
Organisational Constraints that affect Perception
The most important role perception in the workplace is its linkage to the decision making perception process. Let us discuss the various organizational constraints that affect the perception ultimately leading to incorrect decisions.
A reward system, if not perceived properly by the team members or the employees at large may largely affect the organization performance. A reward system can be effective, if it is properly understood by the team members. In most cases, it is observed that the team is not motivated to walk that extra mile and clinch the deal or complete their targets as they have not understood the reward system properly. An improper communication has led to the formation of incorrect perception in the minds of the employees or the team members which restricts their motivational levels to perform better. It is very important from an organizational perspective that the reward system or for that matter incentive system is perceived accurately by the employees. In the absence of this, the organizational performance can be badly hit despite lucrative incentive schemes. Proper communication therefore, by the managers or the top management, assumes greater importance in accurately perceiving the schemes.
If there have been any historical precedents, good or bad, then they would largely affect the perception of individuals in their work environment. For example, consider an employee or a group of employees who had a boss, who is autocratic in his approach and is least sensitive to their issues, does not give a patient hearing to their issues and always focuses only on work. In such a case, due to bitter experience that they had in the past, the employees may already frame an opinion and could thus create a different perception about their autocratic boss. When this boss leaves the organization, the employees would subsequently be led by a new boss / superior. This new boss could be quite considerate and much different from the earlier one. However, the perception of the employees does not change as they had bitter experience in the past. The new boss tried to invoke participation of his team members however, the perception due to past precedent resisted them to actively participate in the team, thus lowering the efficiency of the team. We may therefore infer that the extent of damage due to incorrect perception cannot be evaluated.
Rigid rules and regulations
If the rules and regulations are highly rigid, then the employees may perceive the management of the organization to be highly inflexible and hostile in their approach. Consequently this may affect the organization in more than one way. For example, employees may perceive a completely different image of the company. Apart from this, the prospective employees may also perceive the organization as indifferent to human needs and may not be interested in joining this organization. The brand image, due to improper perception, may get tarnished making it increasingly difficult for the recruitment team to hire potential talent from the market. Most of the prospective candidates would express their resentment in joining, which may later prove detrimental to the organization. Once such perception firms up, it may become increasingly difficult to change the brand image of the organization.
With such perceptual errors, it thus becomes imperative to improve the perception and more so at the work place. Correct perception of employees at the workplace holds greater significance. Employees generally underperform in ambiguous situations. Barring a few, most of the employees tend to feel unsecure whenever there is role ambiguity. In such situations, employees tend to perceive their roles by themselves, to the best of their ability.
Role clarity therefore assumes greater importance in organizations. Employees at their work place should have a complete clarity about their roles. It is often observed that the HR department goes all out on a hiring spree and seldom brings total clarity on the role that an individual has to perform, especially with junior and middle level candidates. As a result, most of the candidates who join at this level are often into a state of confusion. Within a department also, most of the employees working together may have overlapping roles. As a result, the department is unable to deliver the goods since roles of employees often overlap. Organizations must have well defined role folders for each position or atleast for key roles in the organization. This when shared with talent acquisition team enables effective recruitment and selection.
Similarly, perception can play havoc if the goals of individuals/team are undefined. Not only, will it affect the appraisal cycle but will also contribute largely towards bringing in clarity. It is often observed in organizations, the goals are not set for a major part of the year, or in some cases, the goals are not defined at all, leaving everything to the understanding of the employees. As a result, employees tend to take up soft and comfortable goals, most of which could be overlapping within a department or a function. In such a case, there is no criterion of measurement and the supervisors measure the goals at the end of the stipulated period according to their own perception. Hence, bringing in goal clarity is imperative for organizations.
Ill-defined depatmental procedures
It is also observed that departmental procedures are not defined or are ill-defined. This leads to different perceptions by the departmental employees in doing a particular task / activity which need not be necessarily correct. If it is incorrect, then it may detrimental effect on the departmental work and consequently the organization’s growth would also get affected.
Poorly drafted HR policies
Also imagine a scenario where the HR policies rolled out by the department are poorly drafted and hence could lead to incorrect perception by the employees. The HR department must ensure that the policies, apart from being employee friendly, also need to be drafted correctly to the last word and in a lucid manner. Else, it may not be correctly interpreted, especially at the lower levels in an organizational hierarchy.
For instance, consider a scenario where the HR policies have been rolled out without even evaluating the repercussions. Loose drafting of policies could lead to misinterpretation by the employees. Hence, in most organizations which are professional setups, the HR heads before rolling out the policies, generally bounces them off, with other departmental or functional heads. This is done essentially to understand various view points or interpretations of other heads which may have been overlooked or inadvertently ignored due to bias. A quick correction, therefore can actually save the organization from such unpleasant situations and help to gain a common view point of the employees. As compared to the functional policies, The HR policies have a higher stake and needs to be rolled out with extreme care. The effect of such policies is company-wide.
Incorrect perception of employees could thus affect the employees and consequently the organization in more than one way. Organizations today take enormous measures to ensure that employees frame the right perception lest it could be detrimental to the organization. For this, organizations should ensure careful selection of employees at managerial level as they often prove to be game changers. A negative attitude of the manager can prove to be quite expensive to the organization. Effective communications skills are of paramount importance of perception in the workplace.
Managers, today need to understand organizational success can follow only if the perceptions of the employees are well understood and addressed. This addressing may involve correcting the perceptions as well. If the employees have a favourable perception of their job, the likelihood of organizational success is high. Consequently the retention of employees would also reduce and would no more be a challenge. This clearly underlines the significance of perception at the work place and stands testimony to the fact the fact that it can make or break an organization.
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