Reducing Conflict 46 Perception Problems

June 19, 2022

This article is about perception problems in everyday life.  No two people will see a phenomenon the same way. As our fingerprints are all unique, so is our perception of what is going on around us.

Hold up a Quarter

To demonstrate perception, I can hold a quarter out in front of me while I am facing you. I will describe a round metal object with an embossed head on it.  You will describe a round metal object with an embossed picture of an eagle sitting on a branch.  We are both describing the exact same object, yet we see it differently.

The phenomenon is generally true

The same phenomenon happens when two people see any kind of situation at work or at home. They see the same thing, but it has a different appearance depending on their personal vantage point.

This difference means they will draw different conclusions about what just happened and the significance of it.  Taking the next step requires each individual to react to the stimulus in an appropriate way.  Each person is free to react however he or she feels is appropriate for the situation.  This is true even if both people perceived exactly the same thing. What would seem appropriate to one person might be the wrong thing to do for the other. All this discrepancy leads to squabbles about actions taken.

Example of an attendance problem

For example, let’s suppose a manager is discussing an employee with a severe attendance problem with her supervisor. The manager and supervisor may have different opinions about the problem itself. Perhaps the supervisor knows the lady has a child who has special needs. This situation calls for many trips to the child’s doctor. The supervisor wants to be lenient based on this knowledge.

From the manager’s perception, this employee needs to have the same set of rules as everyone else. Special treatment will lead to poor discipline in the unit. The manager sees an untenable situation that needs progressive counseling, while the supervisor sees the need for flexibility.

Differences of opinion create a great deal of conflict in any workplace.  From my perspective, I will be pretty sure my way is right.  The trouble is that another person will be just as sure his perception and remedy are right. 

The opposite of right is wrong

If I know that I am right, and you see things differently, then by definition, you must be wrong.  In most instances, my reaction to this dichotomy is to try to educate you on why your perception is incorrect.  You will try to get me to realize the error of my thinking.  We are off to the races in conflict.

This genesis of conflict is going on in small and large ways each and every day. Is it any wonder there is so much acrimony in the workplace and at home?  This problem is ubiquitous. What are some antidotes so we can reduce the conflicts between people?

  1. Seek to understand assumptions – What is behind the perception?
  2. Try reversing the roles – Force yourself to see a different perspective.
  3. Use Reflective Listening – Make sure you are hearing the other person.
  4. Watch the language – Ask more questions and avoid edgy statements.
  5. Agree to Disagree – You can still be friends.
  6. Don’t blow things out of proportion – Keep differences small.
  7. Get a good mediator – A third person can be helpful.
  8. Give in – Letting the other person win is often a great strategy.
  9. Discuss calmly – A calm rational discussion can often clear up the difference.
  10. Show love – Keeping things positive helps a lot.

Humans have a remarkable ability to drive each other crazy. This tendency is worse when people are in close proximity. It is the reason why you can appreciate and love members of your family until they come to visit for a week.  At a distance, it is easy to manage disagreements most of the time. When people are underfoot every day, the little things tend to become so irritating, that the conflict begins to snowball.

We all see things through a slightly different lens. We process assumptions about what is happening through our parochial brain. Conflict is going to happen. Take some of the evasive steps like the ones above to keep the volume down on interpersonal differences.  Life is too short to be habitually annoyed by fellow workers or family members. 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 

Successful Supervisor 81 – Trust Leads to Better Communication

June 23, 2018

In any organization, the most frequent complaint about the quality of work life is usually about communication.

Supervisors are the mainstay of communication in any organization, because they work at the critical junction of the professional staff and the workers.

If you work in an area of low trust, communication is difficult at best. People will continually second guess what you are trying to convey. They will look for ulterior motives or hidden agendas.

It is common for workers to actually hear what they think the supervisor was going to say rather than what she actually did say.

To assure your message has been internalized, it is necessary to verify what the people in the group heard you say. Often there is at least a partial shift in meaning if trust is low.

In the 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer, Richard Edelman measured a shift in what it takes for people to believe information they are hearing about the organization. Prior to that time, the majority of people said they were likely to believe the information if they hear it once or twice.

By 2011, most people said they needed to hear the information three to five times before they were likely to believe it is true.

That shift in perception means that supervisors need to be highly creative to send consistent messages in different ways until people really understand and internalize the information.

The best way to test if people have heard you is to ask them to repeat what they just heard you say. Be sure to do this in a friendly and sincere way rather than with a demeaning attitude. Stress that you are taking this verification step to test for understanding on important points.

When trust is high, more of the true meaning is absorbed instantly. The supervisor may even mess up the communication, yet the workers will hear the correct message. That is because people are emotionally aligned with the supervisor more often and know what is in her heart. If something comes out garbled in a statement or email, they are more likely to cut her some slack.

I believe the weakest communication skill set for most human beings is listening skills. When employees complain about poor communication skills on the part of supervisors and upper management, the most frequent interpretation is that they are not being heard, or if they were heard, their views were disregarded.

One reason for this problem is that humans can think at roughly four times the speed as we can talk, so there is a lot of excess capacity in the brain while someone is talking to us to formulate our responses. We end up not paying close enough attention to the full message.

It is vital that supervisors practice good listening skills, but there is a major challenge in doing so. Great listening means paying attention at a higher level than we do in casual conversation, but that takes so much energy that most supervisors cannot sustain the effort and relapse into casual listening.

The proper way to listen with precision is to reflect some of the content back to the speaker. It is called reflective listening. That technique also requires more energy than most supervisors can sustain continuously and many find it difficult to do.

The antidote here is to have a signal whereby you know which conversations require you to wear your “listening hat.” The signal is when an employee is coming to you in a highly emotional state. I think over 80% of conversations are casual, so relaxed listening is adequate in those situations.

Serious conversations with another person who is highly emotional require us to shift into a higher gear of listening effort.

Pay close attention to your communication skills. If they are solid, you are likely adding to the trust on a daily basis. If they are weak, get some help to avoid having your communication weakness drag down the ambient culture in your organization.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at, or 585.392.7763