Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 6, Issue 3;   January 18, 2006: Filtered Perceptions

Filtered Perceptions

by

How we see things influences how we see things, almost like a filter or sunglasses. What are your filters?

It's December, and I'm visiting family for our seasonal reunion, staying at my mother's home. As every year, we'll be celebrating the holidays and my niece's birthday. This visit has some interesting family dynamics, like all such visits, but that's another story. The lesson for me this year is about perceptions.

The Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft is seen reflected in the glasses of Expedition 36 backup Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio of NASA

The Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft is seen reflected in the glasses of Expedition 36 backup Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio of NASA. Photo by Bill Ingalls, courtesy U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

It's a cold winter day, and I decide to buy a birthday gift for my niece. My mother lives near three shopping malls, and my destination is the mall furthest away. You can't quite see it from the front window, but it isn't very far, so I decide to walk.

This choice astounds my mother, who insists that I drive. I don't know how long the walk will be, but I'm guessing maybe a little more than an hour. With assurances to my mother about my physical abilities, I bundle up and set off.

Cutting across parking lots and shopping mall landscaping, I arrive at the store, make my purchase, and return in just under 30 minutes. My mother is surprised, but even I am shocked. How could my time estimate have been so far off?

I suddenly realize that I haven't walked much around here — it's an automobile world, with highways, red lights, and heavy traffic. My perceptions of distances are really perceptions of the time it takes to drive. I had been using a driving filter to project a walking experience.

It's a common mistake. We think we're making valid extrapolations when we aren't. Here are some of the filters that distort our perceptions.

This is just like that
Sometimes we believe that the situation we face is familiar when it actually isn't. This is the mistake I made.
How We often think
that we're seeing
things as they are
when we aren't
does this situation differ from the situations you know? How is it similar? Are the differences and similarities important?
Bias and preference
Especially if they're very strong, our biases and preferences affect our judgment.
Our biases sometimes arise from our investments. What's at stake? Is there much to gain or lose?
Illusions of independence
If someone who commands us with authority requires a certain course of action, then our judgment about its feasibility is possibly suspect. And the same is true if the contemplated action is fashionable.
To accept that authority or fashion influences our perceptions is to accept our limitations — a difficult thing to do.
I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date
If urgent action is required, we sometimes decide that we have no more time to think; no more time for caution.
Usually the opposite is true: with urgency comes enhanced need for thought and caution.

One common filter many of us share is a belief that we, personally, always see things as they are — unclouded by bias, authority, habit, urgency, or fashion. This "no-filter" filter is perhaps the most dangerous filter of all.

Notice those times when you accept your own filtered perceptions as real. What's your favorite filter? Go to top Top  Next issue: The Shower Effect: Sudden Insights  Next Issue

Rick BrennerThe article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More

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More articles on Emotions at Work:

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Have you had a major success lately? Have you become a celebrity in your organization? Are people showering you with accolades? When it happens, we feel great, and the elation does finally come to an end. What then?
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Feeling trapped, with no clear way out, often leads to anger. One way to defuse your anger is to notice false traps, particularly the false dichotomy. When you notice that you're the target of a false dichotomy, you can control your anger more easily — and then the trap often disappears.
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What can you do when you discover that the environment at work is permeated with distrust? Your position in the organization does affect your choices, but here are some suggestions that might be helpful to anyone.
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Most of us have had way too much to do for so long that "too much to do" has become the new normal. We've forgotten what "enough to do" feels like. Here are some reminders.
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Recent research has discovered a class of human limitations that constrain our ability to exert self-control and to make wise decisions. Accounting for these effects when we construct agendas can make meetings more productive and save us from ourselves.

See also Emotions at Work and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The future site of 2 World Trade Center as it appeared in 2013Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
A hummingbird feeding on the nectar of a flowerAnd on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.

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