Perceptual Lenses

As a reader of Cultural Intelligence, you will know of the considerable work that has gone into the Unwritten Ground Rules or UGRs concept over recent years. You would also know that the work hasn’t stopped either! Below is an insight into recent work into perceptual lenses…

We‘ve defined UGRs as people’s perceptions of ‘this is the way we do things around here’. UGRs dictate people’s behaviour, yet they are rarely if ever discussed openly.

Over the last few years, we’ve invested heavily into creating a methodology that enables organisations to understand and improve their culture using UGR-related tools.

More recently, we’ve studied how UGRs impact on an individual’s thinking.

We think UGRs create perceptual lenses for all of us.

Perceptual lenses are the way in which each of us views events, based on past experiences, such that we filter events to conform with our existing views.

Here is an example:

Suppose that I have a perception that all men are aggressive drivers. When I see a car being driven aggressively, without being able to see the driver I will likely say to myself – ‘There’s another useless male driver’. When this is confirmed, I’ll utter knowingly to myself ‘Typical’.

Now when this happens again, there is a fair chance I’ll go through the same thought process. Without being able to see the driver, I’ll think ‘There goes another useless man’. But when the driver is revealed to be a woman, my thoughts will modify quickly to ‘A woman! Now that’s a surprise!’.

This is an example of my ‘perceptual lenses’ filtering information in a way that suits my pre-existing viewpoint. When I see an aggressive male driver, my viewpoint is confirmed. When I see an aggressive female driver, I rationalise the observation by saying ‘this is only an aberration’.

So it goes with UGRs.

Let’s presume that there is a UGR in place that says:

  • Around here, customers are a pain in the neck.

Given this UGR, there is a good chance the customer will be treated ordinarily from the outset (after all, I think they are a pain in the neck!). That aside, let’s presume that after pleasantries, the customer says, ‘I was wondering whether you might do me a favour?’

Perceptual lenses are the way in which each of us views events… to conform with our existing views.

Within the context of a negatively framed UGR, this will be interpreted as ‘I was wondering whether I might be able to dump some extra work on you?’ and there is little likelihood of the request being met!

Here is another example:

Let’s suppose there is a UGR in place that says:

  • Around here, everyone spends time trying to blame someone else for things that have gone wrong.

When I am at a meeting and someone says ‘I hope you do better next time’, I will hear that as a direct threat. And it is likely that after the meeting, I will be heard saying, ‘Did you hear that? She just threatened me—that’s so typical of the way things are around here.’

In that sense, UGRs are like a self-fulfilling prophecy – our perceptual lenses hear things that support our perceptions and cast out those things that contradict them.

It is incumbent on all of us to question our own views and ‘cleanse’ the perceptual lenses.