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Perception is Not Reality

Conscious Communication: bringing communication up from "auto-pilot" and reactive, to thoughtful, responsive, and above all, intentional.

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Perception is Not Reality
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There's an old expression that masters of illusion love to use: "perception is reality." Actually, in the cold light of day we find that perception is not reality. Perception is what we react to, as if it was reality. Perception is a kind of story, made up of filtered memories, projections, assumptions, and most importantly interpretations of stimuli. We can perceive what is not present, or not perceive what is present. We see what we expect to see, don't see what is "off our radar," and emphasize or minimize in accordance with our beliefs and upbringing. What causes trouble is simply that perception gets promoted to "Truth," and we fall into the trap of defending it as such.

It's almost too cliché to bring up the familiar car accident witnessed by five people, each of whom sees a different accident, except that this example works so well to illustrate the concept. Witness statements are always vulnerable to cross-examination because our ability to perceive is not objective, as if through a camera lens. The interpretive aspect of our perceptions makes them very subjective. Where your grandmother might perceive you driving too fast, you might perceive her as driving too slowly. In addition, we can only perceive a piece of any situation, so we tend to fill in the blanks with assumptions, and then again, promote the whole story to a truth. Somebody swerves, and we think they're driving badly. Especially when we didn't see the puppy run into the road in front of them. Something is not invalidated just because it's outside of our perception. And yet, when we rise to defend this "truth," it doesn't occur to us that we're actually defending an interpretation.

One of the most influential aspects of our perception is our perspective. This is the place from where we’re perceiving; both in physical space, and our internal filters. So the result is almost entirely an interpretation. Depending on where you sit, you’ll see some things that somebody else might not, and vice versa. Knowing that we can change our perspective, it follows that the perception will change along with it. Thus, perception is far from a fixed truth; perceptions are constantly in change and flux.

A Moving Target
Along with perceiving visual information, perception enters our communication on a regular basis. We are after all conveying our interpretation of events, feelings, or thoughts. The words we choose, the imagery we choose, and certainly the metaphors that make sense to us, are all dependent on our perception, which is in turn dependent on our changing perspectives.

Were we infallible recording devices, we'd have far fewer arguments, but we're not. We remember what we think we heard, and think we saw. There's also a little bit of a "Fudge Factor" in how we fill in blanks and gaps, as our memories tamper with objective truth. The other person's words can create a story more in-line with our own interpretations, changing all-important context and without checking in, we assume we understand what they meant.

A great example of this would be where someone's perspective is rooted in a lack of faith in themselves or others. This perspective tends to have an expectation of being disappointed or rejected. When that expectation is in place, the listener tends to hear rejection where there is none. The speaker having no idea that this is happening finds the listener's upset reaction to be illogical or irrational, and either dismisses it, or argues; either way fanning flames that are not helping clarify the communication.

Another common example is where we project our own negative feelings about ourselves on the other person, thinking or feeling that they have this negative opinion about us. That shapes how we hear what they are saying, and certainly not in an accurate way. We make their words fit our interpretation; twisting, omitting or adding entire phrases to change the intended meaning, and make us "right."

You've probably heard jokes about the exchange that goes, "you look really great today." "So what you're really saying is I look terrible the rest of the time?!" Unfortunately this is all too common. The receiver's self doubts obliterate the intended compliment.

Pattern Interrupt
All of these situations generally escalate rapidly and get so out of proportion that it's difficult to rein them in. I've seen business relationships disintegrate and people stop speaking to one another when the initial flare-up was completely avoidable. The solution is once again that extra time and care that goes into Conscious Communication.

When we truly know ourselves, we can see where our triggers are. Being told what to do, criticism, self-esteem issues, or any of a number of factors become filters when we're listening to someone. When we're aware of those filters, we can remember the effect they have on us, and catch ourselves before we react.

That's where the rubber meets the road. Stopping ourselves when we recognize our filters interpreting someone's words is very powerful in communication. This combined with the always important "check-in" can short-circuit the bomb before the timer even starts ticking. Once we're aware of our own context filters, it's easier to understand others reacting to our words as well


Quick Communication Tip

Own Your Perception
Arguments have their value. By presenting different points of view, more overall light is shed on a topic, and both parties get a more complete picture.

Useless arguments ensue when people demand that another person abandons their own perspective to take on that of the other person. This is usually in the form of defending “truths” that are actually perceptions. By promoting a perception to a “truth,” we invalidate the other person’s perception, causing a reaction and a desire to defend.

The simple solution is to own your perception as a perception. This doesn’t make it less valid. It leaves room for the other person’s perception to be concurrent, and not invalidated. Merely by starting your sentence, “it seems to me” or “I feel like” or “I think,” or even “what if” we make enough room for multiple perspectives, which in fact gets us much closer to truth.

Want to learn more about how your communication can hold you back or catapult you forward?  Come visit the web site, or better yet, contact me and see how we can design a program to fit your needs and desired outcomes.


Resource Links:

Conscious Communication - the podcast series

KG Stiles: "Conversations that Enlighten and Heal"
Ian Blei on Kind Ambition and the
Integram (TM)

Personal Life Media - "Coaching the Life Coach:"
Communication Excellence (Podcast Snippets)
Communication Excellence (full interview)

Interview Podcast for Evolutionary Radio w/ J. McClain

Kind Ambition -
2nd Edition now available

Got Blog? c
ome visit the Blog.

Character Driven - Ever want to create characters that were so believable, that people forgot they were characters?



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