Through Your Looking Glass
Personal Business Skills Articles
Submit Articles Back to Articles
The editor suggested by phone, "Let's meet for lunch. We'll discuss your
writing project then."
"How will I know you?" I asked.
"Oh," she answered, "that's easy. I'll be the tall, skinny blonde."
I formed a mental picture. . . but one destined to be short-lived. For on
that Tuesday, when she walked up to greet me, I was glad she spoke first. I
wouldn't have identified her from the description. In fact, I'd glanced at her
once, then looked elsewhere.
She seemed average height, with light brown hair, and not all that skinny
(which, of course, I couldn't mention).
Everybody has similar experiences. Written and spoken descriptions seem even
less reliable than weather forecasts and lottery tickets.
We hear, "Great movie--you have to see it!" We rent the video, then cut it
off after ten minutes, muttering, "This movie got an Oscar?"
You dislike the "super restaurant" a friend raved about. To you, prices were
too high, servers were slow and rude, and you'd rate the food bland, at best.
As a result, we have popularized statements like "Beauty is in the eye of the
beholder" and "One man's meat is another man's poison."
Communication specialists attribute these diverse interpretations to
perception. They explain that each of us has a unique window to the world.
Consequently, our viewpoints are truly customized, like a contact lens
prescription which works for us, but not for the person standing next to us.
Life experiences shape perception. A Boston native will laugh at the Atlanta
weatherman's "frigid" forecast, when temperatures dip into the 40s. Bostonians
wash their cars on those days.
A person's needs alter perception. You've heard the advice, "Don't go grocery
shopping when you're hungry." You'll buy foods you'd skip when shopping just
after a meal. Also, think of driving past a bank sign and seeing the time and
temperature flashing alternately. Running late for an appointment, you're likely
to focus on the time. Heading for the beach, you'll center on the temperature.
In either case, the irrelevant numbers might not "register" with you. If asked,
you couldn't repeat them.
Gender influences perception. Often we feel there's no exaggeration in John
Gray's title, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. As Gray states, many
male/female conflicts don't revolve around issues of right or wrong, just
recognition of opposite vantage points.
Certainly economic status alters perception. What, for instance, is your
definition of an expensive house? Think back to when your salary was one third
or one half of your current income. Your dollar figure for an expensive home was
radically different then, wasn't it? Throw in how housing prices have escalated
in the last twenty years, and you'll note another reason definitions change.
Physical characteristics play important roles. In the sixth grade, I learned
that I'm largely colorblind. Maybe the editor I met for lunch really was more of
a blonde than I thought. Also, were I shorter in stature, she could have fit the
You could add to the list of factors which shape our perception--age, various
roles we play, tradition, family values, national and ethnic origin, education,
religious beliefs, and more.
There's an important lesson here for dealing with our colleagues and with our
customers. In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin spoke to this point. Late in
life, he adopted a new way of dealing with people. Abandoning the dogmatic style
of his youth, he started using these phrases: "The way I look at this," "It
seems to me," and "I could be mistaken, but . . . ."
After adopting this approach, Franklin noticed radical improvement in his
communication efforts and in how he related to others.
Examine your looking glass--the porthole through which you see the world and
its inhabitants. Realize how and why your individual window is unlikely to match
another person's. Expect the differences in what each of you sees, and then
says. Allow for discrepancies--and learn from them.
An old saying confirms Franklin's advice about perception: "Don't call the
world dirty because you forgot to clean your glasses."
About the Author
Bill Lampton, Ph.D., helps organizations achieve
CPR-Cooperation, Productivity, Renewal of mission! He wrote The Complete
Communicator: Change Your Communication, Change Your Life! For
additional information visit his web site at
Follow us @Scopulus_News
Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2009-11-02 12:23:03 in Personal Articles