Quite recently at work, there was an interesting incident that, to my mind, betrays how desire and emotions bend our perception.

  • A colleague went up to our senior management with a proposal.
  • Our senior management gave a whole bunch of comments and input, requested for the colleague to make changes to their plan, AND requested for my colleague to return with the revised plans.
  • My teammates who sat in that meeting were quite amazed when, after the meeting, our colleague commented, “OK now that we have gotten senior management endorsement, we can proceed with the plan.” My teammates took a bit of time to convince them that it WASN’T senior management endorsement, and that they needed to rework the plan.

I admit that I laughed out loud when I heard the story. But after that, when I paused to think about it, who hasn’t been guilty of exactly the same thing i.e. hearing what you want to hear? Who hasn’t read more into a sentence or email than it merited, or heard more into a bosses’ criticism/praise than it originally meant?

Our emotions are the lens which distort how we see the world. That’s why it’s so important to first get still and calm before making any decision. And that’s why certain spiritual traditions focus so much on meditation and prayer, in order to see things as they truly are rather than what we want them to be. As my teacher once pointed out, people who are angry are often searching for an excuse to justify their anger. They are hearing for provocations, rather than truly listening.

As work becomes increasingly white-collar, it’s ever more important to be able to double-check our perceptions, and to validate our perceptions by asking questions (of ourselves, via reflecting and meditation) and polling people. This is especially the case as we work our way up the hierarchies, because the higher you go, the less you get to hear what really happens but more you hear what people want you to hear. Also, the higher you go, the more damaging your wrong perceptions can be. 

So I’ll leave you with a question: which recent conversation you’ve had, could you possibly have heard what you wanted to hear (or seen what you wanted to see) instead of what truly happened?

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One thought on “Seeing Things in a Different Way

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