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Feedback at the Workplace

Part 2 – The Role of Perception in the Feedback Process 

The first part of this article focused on the evolution of feedback in the work place. This second article is aimed at assisting the reader to understand the relevance of perception and attribution in the feedback process.

Understanding Perception

Perception is the process by which individuals give meaning to the persons, places, and things they sense and experience (Scott & Brydon, 1997). Consequently, in view that organisations are made of people, the individual members’ perception on each other have a direct effect on each other as well as on the organisation’s behaviour as a whole.

The literature about perception indicates that perception is a highly selective process because of the discrepancy between the capacity of the senses and the capacity of the brain to process what is sensed and experienced (Scott & Brydon, 1997, Hellriegel & Slocum, 2004).  Additionally, Hochberg (1964) describes perception “as a selective activity in which people give meaning to only a portion of what they sense and experience”. This implies that when giving feedback, people may be conditioned by factors that they have limited control over.

Interestingly, studies in the area suggest that when an individual is confronted with a new or ambiguous stimulus, there is a tendency to pick out the familiar and the obvious.  This is good because it enables individuals to quickly establish a reference point from which they can plan their own communication behaviour and interpret that of others. Nevertheless, this might also be dangerous because it can perpetually ‘blind’ individuals to other data that may be even more important to how they behave and interpret the behaviour of others (Hochberg, 1964, Hellriegel, Jackson & Slocum, 2004, Covey, 2004, De Vito, 2005).

Attribution

Self-perception affects not only how individuals see themselves but also the attributions they make about themselves and others.  Attribution is the process of assigning a cause to behaviour, such as, a person’s character or a particular situation.  Attribution commonly is biased by assumptions about a person based on factors such as appearance, race, age and gender.  Furthermore, there are also psychological processes or biases that may play an important role in influencing self-perceptions and perceptions people have of others (Scott & Brydon, 1997, De Vito, 2005).

The literature also suggests that perception is also influenced by past experiences, motivational states and particular emotions that an individual may have at a given moment.  Thus prior to giving feedback, one needs to ensure that his/her impressions of a situation/behaviour are as accurate and factual as possible since, based on the above literature, an incorrect perception may subsequently lead a person to communicate inaccurate feedback to another.

In addition, several errors and biases such as the fundamental attribution error, the actor-observer effect’ and the self-serving bias can occur in the attribution process notwithstanding an appraiser’s effort in attributing and interpreting behaviour. Similarly, when subjective performance is evaluated, several rater errors such as leniency, harshness, central tendency, the halo and the similar to me effect may occur.  As a result, observers are confronted by a variety of ‘perceptual’ roadblocks and ‘rater’ errors that may hamper good subjective evaluations.

A number of techniques aimed at enhancing the accuracy of attributions about both the self and others are indicated.  One such method requires a person to look for signs of covariation.  This demands the individual to suspend definitive attributions until multiple exposures in different communication environments have occurred.  Furthermore, one should be alert to the fact that what seems to be the obvious reason for another person’s behaviour is not necessarily the only or best reason.  This is referred to by the literature as the process of discounting what looks obvious.  Another method through which an individual might increase the accuracy of attributions requires carrying out reality checks.  This entails comparing attributions with other sources and trying to perceive people and events from perspectives beyond our own.

Finally, one can consciously use more than a single view in assessing an experience.  This involves shifting one’s point of view or changing the language that is used in reference to an experience.  This process is known as reframing.

Accurate attributions therefore need to be based on evidence relevant to the attribution.  Factual evidence is just as important as regards to attributions people make about themselves as it is for assessing the attributions people make about others.  

Reflections:

Perception is the process by which individuals give meaning to the persons, places, and things they sense and experience.

Attribution is the process of assigning a cause to behaviour, such as, a person’s character or a particular situation.

Be very careful before giving feedback because, that which looks so obvious and clear to you is not necessarily the reality.

You can share your reflections with the author at [email protected].

In the final part of this series the author will discuss ‘Self-perception and Self-awareness’. 

References:

De Vito, J.A. (2005). Human Communication – The Basic Course.  Allyn & Bacon

Hochberg, J. (1964). Perception. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall