Successful communication depends largely on the accuracy of the impressions you form of others. Here are a few ways to increase your accuracy in impression formation.
Analyze Impressions. Subject your perceptions to logical analysis, to critical thinking. Here are two suggestions.
• Recognize your own role in perception. Your emotional and physiological state will influence the meaning you give to your perceptions. A movie may seem hysterically funny when you’re in a good mood, but just plain stupid when you’re in a bad mood.
• Avoid early conclusions. Formulate hypotheses to test against additional information and evidence (rather than conclusions). Look for a variety of cues pointing in the same direction. The more cues that point to the same conclusion, the more likely your conclusion will be correct. Be especially alert to contradictory cues that seem to refute your initial hypotheses. At the same time, seek validation from others. Do others see things in the same way you do? If not, ask yourself if your perceptions may be distorted in some way.
Check Perceptions. Perception checking will help you lessen your chances of misinterpreting another’s feelings and will also give the other person an opportunity to elaborate on his or her thoughts and feelings. In its most basic form, perception checking consists of two steps.
• Describe what you see or hear. Try to do this as descriptively (not evaluatively) as you can. Sometimes you may wish to offer several possibilities, for example, “You’ve called me from work a lot this week. You seem concerned that everything is all right at home” or “You’ve not wanted to talk with me all week. You say that my work is fine but you don’t seem to want to give me the same responsibilities that other editorial assistants have.”
• Seek confirmation. Ask the other person if your description is accurate. Avoid mind reading. Don’t try to read the thoughts and feelings of another person just from observing their behaviors. Avoid phrasing your questions defensively, as in “You really don’t want to go out, do you? I knew you didn’t when you turned on the television.” Instead, ask supportively, for example, “Would you rather watch TV”? or “Are you worried about the kids?” or “Are you displeased with my work? Is there anything I can do to improve my job performance?”
Reduce Uncertainty. In every communication situation, there is some degree of ambiguity. There are a variety of uncertainty reduction strategies.
• Observe. Observing another person while he or she is engaged in an active task, preferably interacting with others in an informal social situation, will often reveal a great deal about the person, as people are less apt to monitor their behaviors and more likely to reveal their true selves in informal situations.
• Ask others. Learn about a person through asking others. You might inquire of a colleague if a third person finds you interesting and might like to have dinner with you.
• Interact with the individual. For example, you can ask questions: “Do you enjoy sports?” “What did you think of that computer science course?” “What would you do if you got fired?” You also gain knowledge of another by disclosing information about yourself. These disclosures help to create an environment that encourages disclosures from the person about whom you wish to learn more.
Increase Cultural Sensitivity. Recognizing and being sensitive to cultural differences will help increase your accuracy in perception. For example, Russian or Chinese artists such as ballet dancers will often applaud their audience by clapping. Americans seeing this may easily interpret this as egotistical. Similarly, a German man will enter a restaurant before the woman in order to see if the place is respectable enough for the woman to enter. This simple custom can easily be interpreted as rude when viewed by people from cultures in which it’s considered courteous for the woman to enter first.
Cultural sensitivity will help counteract the difficulty most people have in understanding the nonverbal messages of people from other cultures. For example, it’s easier to interpret the facial expressions of members of your own culture than those of members of other cultures. This “in-group advantage” will assist your perceptual accuracy for members of your own culture but may hinder your accuracy for members of other cultures.
Within every cultural group there are wide and important differences. As all Americans are not alike, neither are all Indonesians, Greeks, or Mexicans. When you make assumptions that all people of a certain culture are alike, you’re thinking in stereotypes. Recognizing differences between another culture and your own, and among members of the same culture, will help you perceive people and situations more accurately.