Perception Is Reality…Sort Of

Anyone who has ever had to work with, or interact with another human being has been told the tired adage of “perception is reality.” It is the pinnacle of management to blame others for things outside of their control (that’s sarcasm). I have fought against this my whole career. Just because someone thinks something, doesn’t make it true, or make it reality.

Here is an example. I was a supervisor a while back and encouraged my team to collaborate on solving problems. I moved their desks so they could work together on their projects. A VP would often walk by and see my team “talking.” His conclusion was that, if they are talking to each other, then they must not be working. Now, if they were gathered around the water cooler, gabbing about the latest Kardashian, then that would be a reasonable conclusion. They were not. They were at their desks working through complex issues. So his perception of my team was not reality. It was bad management.

Unfortunately, there is a bit of truth to the adage. I think it needs to be changed a bit though. “Their perception is their reality,” is a more accurate statement. I think this change because it takes the onus for someone’s thoughts off the other and places squarely on the shoulders of the individual perceiving the world, where it belongs. And if we sit and chew on that for a little while, we see that it makes sense. Our reality is influenced greatly by our experiences. Our experiences change the color of our worldview (the lenses through which we perceive the world). There are things that may be perceived by one person as no big deal, and major problems to others. An example of this is raised voices. There are some that can hear a raised voice and it doesn’t even register for them. My friend from New York is like it. Then there are those that a raised voice triggers trauma from their youth. The perception of raised voices is very true, and very real to both individuals.

How are to navigate a world that seemingly has endless “realities?”

There is a lot to that, and I’m not going to try and flush that out completely. The point I want to make here is to analyze our own “reality” and compare it to actual reality. Many of us walk around with shaded world view lenses, making our perception of the world darker than it truly is. It is not someone else’s responsibility to fix your lenses. It is our own. Using the raised voices example, we can see that we are triggered by a raised voice. We should then begin asking why we are triggered by that, and keep asking why until we get to the very core (the number seems to be around 5-7 whys before getting there). Once we get to the core issue, then we can deal with that problem and begin to heal. That healing will change the tint on our worldview lenses.

If you need a visual representation of this process, go watch the movie Inside-Out.

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