Perception checking: One powerful tool

by Terri Reddout

In my last post, Perception Checking: An excellent method for keeping your foot out of your mouth, I told you about the benefits of perception checking and the three steps of a perception check.

When I first taught perception checking I would give the lecture and simply turn students loose on the perception checking assignments.  That’s when I learned how powerful a communication tool perception checking can be.

Shakespearean for “Cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater!”

The case of the woman who wasn’t prepared for her perception to be correct

A student asked me if it was okay not to share the details of her perception check in her paper.

I asked why.

She said the perception check confirmed one of her perceptions about her husband.  She had tears in her eyes.

She didn’t want to share the details of what she learned from her perception check with me.  It was too personal.

She never provided me with the details, but my perception is her perception check revealed her husband was cheating on her.

Thus, the inspiration for Terri’s Perception Check warnings.

PC Check Warning #1: Don’t ask if you aren’t prepared to have your perception confirmed

Yup, my brokenhearted student inspired this first warning.  But the bottom line is, don’t check your perceptions until you are prepared to learn they may be true.

Let’s say the woman who lives in this house, with a garage and driveway filled with vehicles, decides to perception check her husband.

Step 1: Describe behavior:  “Honey, I noticed you come home with a new car every night. Then a bunch of guys with tools come over and take the car apart. Later a truck loads up the parts and the driver hands you cash.”

Step 2: Provide plausible explanations for behavior: “Are you tearing apart these cars because you’re part of an auto restoration club? Or are you running an illegal chop shop in our garage?”

Step 3: Ask for clarification: “I’d like to know because several police cars just pulled up outside the house.”

Okay, I agree.  My example is silly.  But, if I were the woman in this scenario, I wouldn’t check my perception until I had the kids loaded up in the car with the engine running and all the money from the joint checking account tucked in my purse.

Bottom line: Don’t perception check until you are prepared to deal with having your perception confirmed.

PC Check Warning #2: Start small and work your way up to the biggies

Slightly inspired by the woman with the cheating husband, but also inspired by the need for students to practice perception checking.

Your first perception check assignment is to perception check someone about something that isn’t a big deal.  Perhaps it’s perception checking your brother about why he didn’t ask you to drive him to baseball practice.  Or perception check you mom to find out if she’s perturbed with you because you didn’t take out the trash this morning.  Keep it small and just get use to how to put a perception check together and see how it works.

My favorite example of this is when I had a bunch of guys from the football team in my class at Weber State University.

They told me they would do perception checks in the locker room after practice.  I asked them what kind of perception checks did they do.

It was stuff like, “Hey Bobby.  I notice you have a brown smear on the back of your football pants. (Description of behavior)  Did you get mud on it during practice?  Or did you poop in your pants when Omar tackled you?  (Plausible explanations) What’s going on back there?” (Clarification) 

This led to an entire series of locker room perception check jokes.  Frankly, I encouraged it.  The more they practiced perception checks, the better they got at it.  So it was easier when they did more serious perception check.

PC Check Warning #3: It’s not a perception check if you don’t “check” your perception

Before I included this warning, I’d have a handful of students claim their perception checks didn’t work.  When I looked at their papers I learned why.  They didn’t include their perception in the perception check.  Let me give you an example.

Let’s say you messed up a project. You think you’re going to get fired. You see the boss talking to co-workers.  As you walk up, your boss walks away. You just know you’re going to get fired.

Let’s decide you perception check your friend, David, to see if it’s true.  See if you can spot the problem with this perception check.

Step 1: Describe behavior: “Dave, I noticed the boss talking with you and Eric but she walked out the room before I had a chance to talk with her.

Step 2: Provide plausible explanations for behavior: “Was she just asking everyone about their weekends or did she have to take a phone call?”

Step 3: Ask for clarification: “What’s going on?”

No duh, the perception check didn’t work.  In order for it to work you have to include your perception.  So, in order for this perception check to work it would have to go something like this:

Step 1: Describe behavior: “Dave, I noticed the boss talking with you and Eric but she walked out the room before I had a chance to talk with her.

Step 2: Provide plausible explanations for behavior:  “Did she have to leave to take a phone call?  Or do you think she’s unhappy with my work and is avoiding me?”

Step 3: Ask for clarification: “What’s going on?”

This time around Dave can address your perception and give you an idea as to whether everything is okay or you need to start packing up your office.

PC Check Warning #4: Avoid judgmental words and/or tone in your perception check

Another student inspired this warning.  She, too, didn’t find the perception check to be helpful.  In fact, when she perception checked her co-worker it started a fight.  I just couldn’t believe it; then I read her paper.

She and a woman at the restaurant she worked at were not getting a long.  It got even worse after she “perception checked” the woman:  “Are you acting like a bitch because you’re a bitch or because you’re a super bitch.  I’d really like to know.”

I’m surprised my student didn’t end up getting slugged.  Hell no, this “perception check” didn’t work.  It’s filled with judgmental words and delivered with a judgmental tone.

Remember our classroom scenario about Mandi and Sam in the other perception checking blog?  There is a huge difference between Sam describing Mandi’s behavior and saying she was ignoring him.  She wasn’t ignoring him.  She was simply enjoying her coffee and sending a text.  If someone accused you of ignoring them, how would you respond?  Judgmental or opinion soaked words set up a negative atmosphere to start a conversation.

PC Check Warning #4: Avoid perception checking when you or the person you are perception checking is extremely emotional

This relates back to the last warning.

Even if you don’t use judgmental words, your angry or hurt tone will set up a negative environment to have a useful conversation.

And if the person you’re perception checking is emotional, they’ll probably have too much communication “noise” going on in their heads.

Better to wait a bit until you and the other person have their emotions in check before you perception check!

PC Check Warning #6: Do the perception check in the correct order

Let’s change up the order of our perception check for the chop shop scenario.

Step 2: Provide plausible explanations for behavior: “Are you tearing apart these cars because you’re part of an auto restoration club? Or are you running an illegal chop shop in our garage?”

Step 3: Ask for clarification: “I’d like to know what’s going on because several police cars just pulled up outside the house.”

Step 1: Describe behavior:  “I’m only asking because I noticed you come home with a new car every night. Then a bunch of guys with tools come over and take the car apart. Later a truck loads up the parts and the driver hands you cash.”

Let’s be honest, in this scenario, you probably wouldn’t get past the first line of your perception check.  It’s a silly scenario anyway.  But let’s break it down as if it were a serious perception check.

  • Without describing what stimuli you are reacting to, your perceptions may seem to be coming from “left field” or from “out of the blue.”
    • Imagine if Sam had started off with “Are you upset with me because I got my paper finished early?”  explanation for behavior.  If I were Mandi, I’d wonder where on Earth that comment came from.  But, if I know Sam was responding to me sipping my coffee and texting, I might have a better idea where his perception is coming from.
  • Asking for clarification in the beginning or middle of your perception check might come off as a signal for the person to respond.
    • If they start talking they may get defensive and they most definitely won’t know what brought about your perception or even what your perception is.
PC Check Warning #7: ???

I hope I won’t have to create a new warning.  Over the years, when students follow the perception checking steps and heed the warnings, they discover how powerful a perception check can be.  Many times they find out the other person they were perception checking had no clue they were being perception checked. Many times these perception checks open up new lines of communication or address issues you weren’t even aware of.

Assignment

Now it’s time for you to discover the power of perception checking. Go to the Perception Checking #1 and Perception Checking #2 assignments on Canvas and follow the directions.

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