We Only See What We Want to See: The Role of Perception in Management

The Meaning of Perception

This assertion can be handled from the perspective of perception. Therefore, it is important to define what perception actually means so as to enable us continue with our discussion. Rollinson (2008) defines perception as “a mental process which involves the selection, organization, structuring and interpretation of information so as to provide an inference and meaning to the information”. This process is affected by both external and internal factors. The internal factors which influence our perception include mental processes and personalities. On the other hand, external factors include the surroundings of the objects we perceive and the nature of such objects. Human beings often perceive other people within their social settings and situations including their workplace and homes.

We Only See What We Want to See

From this definition, we can therefore infer that our actions and how we relate with other people largely depends on our perceptions. In this regard, we can argue that people perceive others and what they do as well as the reasons why they behave the way they do. As such, how we evaluate others does not rely on hard facts but our own perceptions, hence the renown that we only see what we want to see.

People often perceive things inaccurately. What we may perceive to be the facts may not necessarily be. This results in what is known as perception error, normally committed by people in managerial positions while making managerial decisions (Rollinson, 2008). For instance, human resource managers may perceive a certain interviewee in a selection interview to be most suited for a job position. However, the reality may be different and the process ends up in selection of inefficient employee. The initial perception of the manager on the employee during the selection interview may be viewed as being erroneous and thus affected the whole human resource management. In this case, what the manager saw on the potential employee was just what he wanted to see through perception, but the reality was not what he perceived.

The Perception Process

A manager’s perception of people can be explained through the perception process. In perception process, people often perceive stimuli in a perception process involving three stages:

  • Attention and selection
  • Stimulus, organization and recognition
  • Interpretation and inference

In the stage of attention and selection, we are often confronted with several stimuli with which we are supposed to base our judgment. As a result, we may ignore some stimuli and accept others. The stimuli which we ignore may actually be the right ones while the ones we accept are wrong. In stage two, those stimuli which attract our attention are organized to create a meaningful whole. Finally, we make a conclusion based on incomplete evidence and assume what we consider as the missing evidence.

Errors of Perception

If we consider managers as acting out of social perception, we may as well regard them as subject to changing stimuli. They perceive other people and from their perception they deduce their mental and behavioral characteristics such as their personality and/or intelligence (Rollinson, 2008). In this process of perception, errors may occur through stereotyping or Halo effect.


Regarding stereotyping, some managers place certain people with certain qualities in a category predetermined by some easily identifiable attribute (Rollinson, 2008). This may be so especially in situations where managers wish to reduce the amount of information they need to gather before reaching a conclusion. This highlights that they see what they want to see.

The Halo Effect

On the other hand, Hallo effect leads managers to believe that because a person has a certain characteristic, then he also has other characteristics. These two problems may lead to a perception errors and hence wrong selection by managers.

The Self-Fulfilling Prophesy

Finally, we may also say that managers see what they want to see through a self-fulfilling prophesy (Rollinson, 2008). This is a situation in which managers place an end to their decisions and manipulate information based on their perception so as to achieve that end.  For instance, a human resource manager may ask difficult questions to people he disregards. The interviewees then find it hard to give correct answers and the human resource manager perceives this as a negative attribute. On the other hand, other people may be asked simple questions to which they respond easily and correctly. The human resource manager then considers them as good.


Therefore, perception is used by managers especially in human resource management. This is because evaluation of people through perception of their behavior and the reasons for their behavior is necessary for a selection process which is often the work of human resource managers.

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