A Blueprint for Perception Training

Article excerpt

A Blueprint for Perception Training

Any HRD professional worth his or her salt knows that all people problems in organizations turn out to be, at least in part, problems of perception. How many times have we seen a departmental meeting go haywire, a brilliant idea get shot down, or a communication channel collapse because people operate with biases--or, in other words, from their own perceptual fields?

In an organization, we continuously interact with people in a wide variety of situations. How we act in those instances is determined to a large extent by how we perceive the people and the situations. Our behavior and actions vary because our perceptions vary.

Because management involves managing people, appreciation of the perceptual process is a logical part of management development. All managers could benefit from the opportunity to learn to understand and appreciate the human perceptual process.

The learning objectives of such a program involve helping trainees discover and understand the answers to the following questions:

* What is perception and why is it important? * What are the underlying mechanisms of perception? * How does an understanding of the perceptual process help?

Perception--An Exercise

The old woman/young woman exercise is effective in answering the first learning objective. In other words, it can help show trainees the importance of understanding perceptual process.

The basic exercise is included in Newstrom and Scannell's Games Trainers Play (McGraw-Hill, 1980). But this slightly different version may be more helpful in heightening the participants' sense of involvement and excitement.

Old woman/young woman

Materials: The old woman/young woman illustration from Games Trainers Play or a similar drawing, either on a piece of cardboard that is large enough to be seen by all the participants, or on a transparency.

The drawing is of a woman's head and shoulders as she turns away from the viewer. She wears a hat and scarf and some sort of stole.

Time frame: 5 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the group, plus time for discussion.

Procedure: Show the picture to the group for about 30 seconds and then remove it. Ask participants to guess the age of the woman shown in the picture. The participants have to make and write down their guesses individually, without any discussion.

Allow them 2 to 3 minutes to write down their guesses. Then ask participants, one by one, to read them aloud. As each participant reads her or his guess, write it prominently on a flip chart.

This part of the exercise can be amusing; participants are likely to have come up with widely varying ages. In a typical group, the woman's maximum age is guessed to be somewhere between 80 and 90 years; the minimum age is between 15 and 20 years.

At this stage, the facilitator can go into the discussion questions (see Figure 1), or extend the game further, if time and the responsiveness of the group dictate it.

To extend the game, ask the participants whose estimates are highest and lowest to come to the center of the room. Have the two trainees sit face to face and ask them to discuss the matter with the goal of coming to a consensus about the woman's age. The rest of the group sits and watches.

In all likelihood, the two participants will not be able to reach a consensus.

Discussion points

Ask the group the following questions:

* Though we all saw the same picture, did we all see the same woman? * Why was there such a marked difference in our opinions about the woman's age? * If so much difference in perception occurs when we are viewing a simple inanimate object, what happens when we look at real people?

Then discuss with the group just what perception is and how it works. Put very simply, perception is the process by which we interpret sensory data. …