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Perspective and Perception

Perspective and perception are really rich and significant words.  Everything that we say and do (our behavior) is based on our perspective which effects our perception of each and every situation we encounter.

In my training and facilitation work, I remind participants of how complex people are.  I bring up the image of many layers of an onion.  Some of these layers are personality, generation, talents, skills, motivations, experience and more.  In general, our perspective contains all of these layers and we carry them with us all the time. In the past, I’ve heard people refer to what I’m describing as looking through a filter (like an air filter), but a filter eliminates or collects particles.  Perhaps a better way to think of these many facets of our unique self is a kaleidoscope of colors and prisms.  If we think about looking through this kaleidoscope as we approach any given situation (if you could see through it), we all bring these wonderful, colorful gems to a situation (our perspectives).

Now, these gems are wonderful and unique to us by themselves.  And only some of these gems are readily visible to our family, friends and colleagues.  Some are more visible than others. It is human nature to assume that others think and feel the same way that we do; that my friend or colleague enters into a conversation, an activity, a situation with a similar perspective (kaleidoscope).  But intellectually we know the reality is certainly different.   Personalities, motivations, and experience vary significantly among the population.  And the combinations are exponential.

When we communicate and interact with others, the different kaleidoscopes with many individual gems, are bound to sometimes collide and introduce conflict, misunderstandings and emotions. 

Now consider perception of a specific situation, incident, issue… added to this perspective.  Perception is obviously colored and informed by perspective, and I propose that perception relates to ones understanding of a specific situation or issue presented at a given time.

I found some examples of different perceptions of a situation in a recent movie, Dunkirk.  As soldiers reach the mainland of Britain by boat after the battle, a blind man provides them with a blanket and pillow, as most are boarding a train to other parts.  As he gives them this gift, he says something like “good job” or “thank you”.  One of the soldiers says, “but we lost” and the blind man says, “you survived”.  Two different perceptions of a situation clearly informed by perspective.  On the train, one soldier says to another, “that man didn’t even look us in the eye when he handed us these blankets”.  He obviously had yet to recognize that the man was blind. The viewer is shown that the soldier on the receiving end of that comment, clearly understood the man to be blind.  Very different perceptions.

This is about awareness.  To try to provide solutions to how to understand each other’s perspectives and perceptions better and use this information for better results, would take a much longer blog.  We can start by listening more, communicating more, and trusting more.