Perception checking is the process of testing your perceptions for accuracy. This is an important step toward improving your perceptual abilities because when you act on the basis of inaccurate perceptions, you run the risk of turning a situation from bad to worse, as you saw Adina do with Craig earlier in this chapter. You can engage in either direct or indirect means of perception checking.
Direct perception checking involves simply asking other people if your perception of a situation is accurate. If you perceive that Min is angry at Dmitri, for instance, one way to find out if you’re right is to ask her. Direct perception checking involves three elements:
1) Acknowledging the behavior you witnessed
2) Interpreting that behavior
3) Asking whether your interpretation was correct
Here’s an example of how you might directly check your perception that Min is angry with Dmitri:
“I heard you talking to Dmitri in his office [acknowledging behavior]. It sounded like you were pretty mad at Dmitri [offering an interpretation]. Is that true?” [asking about your interpretation]
Depending on your relationship with Min, she may feel comfortable telling you how she feels: “Yeah, I’m furious with him!” Or she might downplay her feelings if she doesn’t feel comfortable disclosing them to you: “I’m just a little upset about not getting the promotion, that’s all.”
If your perception is wrong, she might tell you that: “No, I’m not mad at Dmitri at all; why would you think that?” She might even choose not to respond to your question: “I’d appreciate it if you could just leave me alone for a little while.” Direct perception checking will be the most useful, therefore, when you approach people who are willing either to confirm your perceptions or to correct them.
By contrast, indirect perception checking involves listening and observing in order to seek additional information about the situation. Instead of asking Min if she is angry, for example, you might observe her facial expressions, listen to how she talks to others, and watch her body language when she’s around Dmitri. If you notice that Min looks and sounds angry, this gives you additional confidence in the accuracy of your perception. If she seems to interact with Dmitri in a calm, pleasant manner, however, this might suggest that your perception was off base.
Neither direct nor indirect perception checking will provide foolproof results every time. As we saw, asking people if your perceptions are correct is useful only if they are willing to tell you. Indirect perception checking can fail, too, because your initial perception (“Min is angry”) might lead you to pay attention only to clues that reinforce that perception. For instance, you might notice Min’s distressed tone of voice without also noticing that her facial expression appears calm. Another danger of indirect perception checking is that you might pay attention to information that isn’t relevant.
To determine whether Min is angry, for example, you might take careful note of the way she’s sitting at her desk and how she’s looking at others, even though these behaviors might not be affected by her emotion. Although we might think that gathering more information will always lead us to make more accurate perceptions, there are instances when having more information actually makes our perceptions less accurate.
For those reasons, it’s often in your best interests to engage in both direct and indirect forms of perception checking, so that each strategy can compensate for the shortcomings of the other.
The process of perception checking will increase your confidence in the accuracy of your perceptions in some cases and will give you reason to question them in other cases. The last step in improving your perceptual ability is to make use of this information by revisiting your perceptions and revising them, if necessary.