Updated May 31, 2023
Manage Perception in the Workplace
We look at different objects throughout the day and are continuously exposed to various stimuli like the sense of hearing, touch, smell, etc. We are continually bombarded with different motivations, which we interpret in our way and behave accordingly. Thus, Perception can be defined as a process wherein individuals receive various stimuli, organize their impressions, and crack in their way, thereby giving some meaning to the environment. Thus, Perception, on 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 daily.
This stage 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 the individual would display a behavior based on this interpretation only. 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. At times, the individual would select those stimuli which are relevant to the individual, and the rest of them would be dropped. This is called the figure and ground principle of the selection of stimuli.
The output here pertains to the behavior displayed. This behavior, of course, could be desirable or undesirable for an organization. Hence, the significance of Perception from an organizational standpoint is essential.
From an organizational perspective, We don’t see things as they are but tend to see things as we want them to see. Also, as mentioned above, we tend to be very picky in selecting the stimuli like – size. Size does matter – as we tend to prefer bigger things. Similarly, movement or moving object also tends to attract our attractions. For example, a clock’s moving pendulum will tend to attract our attention more than a stationary clock. Repetitions also tend to attract our attention and help to change our Perceptions. 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 colorful object is expected to be perceived more than an uncolored object.
Types of Perceptual Errors
1. Halo Effect
There are a few perceptual errors that may disrupt the interpretation. The 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 feature may influence all other characteristics. 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 they negative, get overshadowed by just one good act of the individual. Such an error often finds its way into 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 ‘backbenchers are laggards’ or a boss may typecast that ‘athletes make up good salesmen’. Such generalized statements may influence the interview process, for instance, and bias the interview ratings.
Projection is yet another important perceptual error that often creeps in due to incorrect Perception of an individual. It is seen during interviews that when the panelists are taking interviewing a candidate, 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. Hence, their interview ratings could get biased. For example, while probing a candidate’s personality, the interviewer may ask about the candidate’s hobbies, to which the candidate may respond with an answer which conveys a set of hobbies similar to one or more of the panelists. In such a situation, the interviewer will likely see the candidate’s personality, which may compel him to skew the rating.
Ways to Improve Perception
In an organizational setup, it 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. An individual can effectively manage a team if you know what the Perception of team members about you is. The clearer you are on this, the better equipped you will be in your interactions with them. It helps them to improve their Perception.
1. Authentic Communication
Authentic communication is yet another method that helps in improving Perception. This 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 perceived that in most cases in an organization, incorrect Perception is due to improper communication. Either the manager is unable to communicate properly, as a result of which the subordinates form a wrong perception, or the team manager has displayed properly; however, for one reason or another, the associates are unable to comprehend the instruction properly due to incorrect Perception. In either case, the situation becomes difficult, and the organization faces a setback.
It is recommended that managers must be compassionate in their approach to improve their perceptions of others. This would enable them to understand and handle their subordinates properly. Being empathetic also helps improve Perception as it helps to understand the situation by keeping oneself in the shoes of others. Taking a step forward, it is often observed that excellent listening skills help an individual shape perception. If an individual is a good listener, such skills go a long way in empathizing with others and play a major role in removing perceptual disorders. It is not inappropriate to mention how we perceive ourselves is how we present ourselves.
3. Positive Attitude
Keeping a positive attitude also helps in improving Perception. For example, consider an employee who is not performing up to the superiors’ expectations and has since been a consistent failure; however, by keeping a positive attitude, they can take effective control of the situation, thus preventing one’s Perception from getting 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.
4. Cultural Influences
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, one should be flexible and accommodating enough to shape one’s Perception.
Organizational 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 Perception, ultimately leading to incorrect decisions.
1. Reward system
If not perceived properly by the team members or the employees at large, a reward system may largely affect the organization’s performance. A reward system can be effective if the team members properly understand it. 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 need to understand the reward system properly. Improper communication has led to the formation of incorrect Perceptions 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 employees perceive the reward or incentive system accurately. With this, organizational performance can be hit well despite lucrative incentive schemes. Proper communication, therefore, by the managers or the top management assumes greater importance in accurately perceiving the plans.
2. Historical Precedents
If there have been any historical precedents, good or bad, they would largely affect the Perception of individuals in their work environment. For example, consider an employee or a group of employees who have a boss, who is autocratic in his approach and is least sensitive to their issues, does not give a patient hearing to their problems, and always focuses only on work. In such a case, due to bitter experiences that they had in the past, the employees may already frame an opinion and could thus create a different perception of their autocratic boss. When this boss leaves the organization, a new boss / superior would subsequently lead the employees. This new boss could be quite considerate and much different from the earlier one. However, the employees’ perceptions did not change as they had bitter experiences. The new boss tried to invoke the participation of his team members. However, due to past precedent, the Perception resisted them from actively participating in the team, thus lowering the team’s efficiency. We may therefore infer that the extent of damage due to incorrect Perception cannot be evaluated.
3. Rigid rules and regulations
If the rules and regulations are flexible, the employees may perceive the organization’s management to be highly inflexible and hostile. Consequently, this may affect the organization in more than one way. For example, employees may perceive a completely different image of the company. The prospective employees may also perceive the organization as indifferent to human needs and may not be interested in joining this organization. Due to improper Perception, the brand image 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 more work to change the organization’s brand image.
With such perceptual errors, it thus becomes imperative to improve the Perception and more so at the workplace. Correct Perception of employees at the workplace holds greater significance. Employees generally need to perform more in ambiguous situations. Barring a few, most employees feel insecure whenever role ambiguity arises. In such cases, employees perceive their roles to the best of their ability.
4. Unclear roles
Role clarity, therefore, assumes greater importance in organizations. Employees at their workplace should have complete clarity about their roles. The HR department often goes on a hiring spree and seldom clarifies an individual’s role, especially with junior and middle-level candidates. As a result, most of the candidates who join at this level often need clarification. Within a department, most employees working together may have overlapping roles. As a result, the department needs to find a way to deliver the goods since employees’ roles often overlap. Organizations must have well-defined role folders for each position or at least for key roles in the organization. This, when shared with the talent acquisition team, enables effective.
5. Undefined goals
Similarly, Perception can play havoc if the goals of individuals/teams are undefined. Not only will it affect the appraisal cycle, but it will also contribute largely towards bringing clarity. Organizations often observe that they have not set goals for a major part of the year, or in some cases, they have not defined goals at all, leaving everything to the employees’ understanding. As a result, employees tend to take up soft and comfortable goals, most of which could overlap 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 Perception. Hence, bringing in goal clarity is imperative for organizations.
6. Ill-defined departmental procedures
Companies have observed that they need to define or redefine departmental procedures. This leads to different perceptions by the departmental employees in doing a particular task/activity that need not be correct. If it is incorrect, it may have a detrimental effect on the departmental work, and consequently, the organization’s growth would also be affected.
7. Poorly drafted HR policies
Also, imagine a scenario where the HR policies rolled out by the department could be better drafted and hence could lead to incorrect Perceptions by the employees. The HR department should ensure they prepare the policies correctly and lucidly, besides making them employee-friendly. Otherwise, it may need to be correctly interpreted, especially at the lower levels of an organizational hierarchy.
For instance, let’s consider a scenario where the organization has rolled out HR policies without evaluating the repercussions. Loose drafting of policies could lead to misinterpretation by the employees. Hence, in most professional setup organizations, the HR heads, before rolling out the policies, generally bounce them off with other departmental or functional heads. To understand various viewpoints or interpretations of different heads, the team conducts this step, which may have been overlooked or inadvertently ignored due to bias. A quick correction can save the organization from such unpleasant situations and help gain a common viewpoint among the employees. Compared to the operational policies, The HR policies have a higher stake and need to be rolled out with extreme care. The effect of such policies is company-wide.
Incorrect Perceptions 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 provide a careful selection of employees at the 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 communication skills are of paramount importance in Perception in the workplace.
Today’s managers must understand and address their employees’ perceptions to achieve organizational success. This addressing may involve correcting the perceptions as well. This underlines the significance of Perception in the workplace and shows that it can make or break an organization. If the employees have a favorable perception of their job, the likelihood of organizational success is high. Consequently, the retention of employees would also reduce and no longer be a challenge.