How to Conduct a Perception Check
Updated: Dec 15, 2021
Have you ever perceived something completely different from someone else? We all have! It can cause a lot of conflict in a relationship when we don't perceive things the same way. There are a lot of factors than can influence our perception. A perception check is an assertive way to ask someone how to interpret their behavior, rather than making assumptions based on our own experiences. Let's begin with some key things to consider when it comes to perception.
KEY CHARACTERISTICS OF PERCEPTION
Your perception if your reality, whether it is accurate or not.
Communication can be challenging due to perceptual differences.
We all make attributions (assumptions) about someone's behavior to attach meaning.
Sometimes we misattribute behavior or judge someone incorrectly.
FACTORS THAT INFLUENCE OUR PERCEPTION
Our biology has a lot to do with how we perceive our environment. For example, differences in our five senses. Something may taste bitter to one person, and sweet to another. If someone is hard of hearing, they may perceive the tv to be quiet when in reality it is extremely loud.
Your physical health can play a role as well. If you are tired or not feeling well, you may perceive someone's behavior as being more annoying than usual.
Medications and drugs can of course alter our perception as well.
Our mood and mental health can greatly influence how we perceive other people and their messages. For instance, if someone is struggling with depression, they may perceive things as being more negative, since they may be seeing life through a negative lens. If someone is struggling with anxiety, something stressful may make them perceive a new task at work even more overwhelming than they would have if they weren't already anxious to begin with.
Our social circle and culture can definitely play a role in how we perceive behavior. For instance, If I was raised in a culture where assertiveness was frowned upon, I may shy away from being upfront in business meetings at work since I may perceive that behavior as negative.
Our past experiences greatly affect how we perceive different people's behaviors and messages. For instance, if I had a friend that would write "K" in her text messages when she was upset, I might assume that everyone that uses a similar text is upset as well.
Since there are a lot of reasons why we perceive things differently, we often judge messages from other people incorrectly. We can reduce the chance of that happening through what's called a perception check. It's an assertive way to check with someone before jumping to conclusions about their behavior or message.
Here are the steps for a perception check:
STEP ONE: Describe the behavior you noticed to the person. Avoid any assumptions here, just give them the facts so they know where you are coming from.
Example: "Hey Jackie, I noticed that you haven't responded to my text messages for three days." (Don't mention how this made you feel, you are just giving the facts without a lot of emotion)
STEP TWO: Give two possible explanations for that behavior, making sure to be respectful and giving them the benefit of the doubt with at least one explanation.
Example: "Is it because you have been busy or did I say something that upset you in any way?" (Giving them at least two explanations helps them know you are being open to alternative explanations. This can help reduce defensive behavior.)
STEP THREE: Ask for clarification
Example: "I just wanted to check-in to make sure everything was ok. "
Here is one more example of a perception check: (Scenario - If my boss gave everyone else a raise at work except for me)
STEP ONE: (Describe behavior) "Hey Jack, I heard from everyone at work that they received a raise this week but I didn't actually receive one."
STEP TWO: (Two explanations for behavior) "Was it because I haven't been performing at a level you were happy with or were there budget cuts in the company?"
STEP THREE: (Ask for clarification) "I just wanted to check-in and see if there was something I needed to work on?"
* This situation actually happened to a friend of mine. Human Resources had made a clerical error and she was actually supposed to get a raise as well. Being assertive helped her get the raise she deserved and her boss was actually happy she reached out!
Make sure to avoid any evaluation with STEP ONE. Avoid saying things like "I noticed you were avoiding me," or "I noticed you have been mad at me and not texting back." You technically don't know how they feel unless they actually told you. If you assume these things, people will often become more defensive.
You can do your part and be direct, hoping to get an honest answer. You have to accept their answer, don't argue with them. This helps the other individual know that you are trying to know how to interpret the behavior, rather than jumping to a negative conclusion immediately. Being direct and assertive isn't rude! Aggressive or passive aggressive behavior is. Assertiveness can really help reduce conflict in a lot of relationships. Try it out! You will be amazed by how many conflicts can be fixed with just this tool alone.