Generate alternative perceptions!

Once you have assigned meaning to an event, ask yourself what other meanings or interpretations you might have come up with. As we discussed earlier, most people arrive at a perception and then pay attention only to information that supports their perception, ignoring any information that doesn’t. A better approach is to look for alternative ways of perceiving the situation, even if they contradict your initial perception.

Your observations of Dmitri and Min, for example, might lead you to perceive that Min is accusing Dmitri of harassment only out of anger at not getting the promotion.

What are alternative ways of perceiving the situation? One alternative we have already identifi ed is that Dmitri has actually harassed Min. Are there others? Perhaps Dmitri feels threatened by Min and worries that he might put his own job in jeopardy by promoting her. Perhaps Min and Dmitri have had a contentious relationship for a long time. In that case, the confl ict you witnessed wasn’t really about Min’s promotion at all but, instead, refl ected longer-standing grudges that both individuals hold.

The practice of generating alternative perceptions is important for two reasons.

First, it requires you to look at information about the situation that doesn’t match your original perception. For example, if you initially perceived that Min accused Dmitri of harassment only out of anger at not getting the promotion, then it would be easy for you to ignore your observations of Min’s discomfort with Dmitri’s overly friendly behavior because those observations don’t support your perception. In contrast, to generate an alternative perception, you would have to take those observations into account.

Second, generating alternative perceptions encourages you to ask yourself what information you don’t have that might be relevant to the situation. How much do you know about Dmitri and Min’s history with each other, for instance? If you knew they used to be a romantic couple but had an emotional breakup just a few months before you started working at the store, that information might give you a more accurate context for interpreting their behaviors toward each other.

Keep in mind, however, that even if you are able to generate alternative perceptions, that doesn’t necessarily mean your initial perception was inaccurate or should be discarded. In fact, looking at alternatives will sometimes make you even more convinced that your first perception was accurate. The purpose of considering alternative perceptions is to make certain you aren’t ignoring or discounting clues from the situation simply because they are inconsistent with the perception you formed. Once you have separated interpretations from facts and have considered alternative ways of perceiving the situation, you can engage in direct and indirect forms of perception checking.