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The powers of perception

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An in depth understanding of the power of perception will clearly provide you with an extremely enlightening and empowering level of self-awareness of whom and what you truly are. The power that’s been provided to you to create a quality of life based on choices and that you are without exception through various opportunities the co-creator of your reality.

Question 1

1.1 The powers of perception

Robbins, Judge, Odendaal and Roodt (2009) define perception as a process by which individuals organise and interpret their sensory impressions in order to give meaning to their environment.

In other words, perception is the way we “see” the world — not in terms of our visual sense of sight, but in terms of perceiving, understanding, and interpreting.

Covey (1989) demonstrates how perception affects the way we see things, the way we think and the way we act in an exercise he encountered many years ago at the Harvard Business School. The instructor divided students into two groups; the one group was given a picture of a young woman (Figure 1.1) and the second group a picture of an old woman (Figure 1.2). After giving each group 10 seconds to study their picture carefully, he projected the combined picture onto a screen (Figure 1.3). Each group saw the respective image they were initially given. This activity clearly and eloquently demonstrates how conditioning effects our perceptions and frames of reference, that two people can see the same thing, disagree, and yet both be right.

Figure 1.1 Figure 1.2

Figure 1.3
We are not born with a certain set of perceptions; these are created over time, based on certain life events and previous teachings received from parents, teachers and friends that are influential in our life.

The brain acts as a recorder that captures all of our experiences and memories in our mind on a series of tapes – forming our perceptions. All our observations, feelings and beliefs are stored here and will determine how we view the world, our behaviour and how we communicate. Richard Ross in Senge et al (1994) however warns against incorrect assumptions about our recordings. He states that we live in a world of beliefs we self-generate based on conclusions made and inferred from what we observe, as well as our past experiences. Our ability to achieve results is eroded by feelings that include: “Our beliefs are the truth. The truth is obvious. Our beliefs are based on true data. The data we select is the real data.”

The aforementioned is closely related is the “the ladder of inference” developed by Chris Argyris (Senge, 1990) which will be discussed in more detail below.

1.2 The Ladder of Inference

The Ladder of Inference comes from Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline Field Book and is based on the commitment we make to our beliefs once we hold them. The ladder of inference is a common mental pathway of increasing abstraction which often leads to misguided beliefs.

For example: You are working on a project and need help and information from Karen. Unable to reach her, you send her an email. When she does not respond, you leave her a voicemail or two, or three.

You remember that the last time you worked together, Karen and you had some disagreements. So you conclude that she is avoiding your communications. As the days go by, you convince yourself that Karen is trying to sabotage you. In fact (you think to yourself), as you recall, she never liked you. You decide then and there that the next time she needs something from you for her projects you won’t give it to her. Soon you start looking for examples of how she is trying to get you and make you look bad. You decide that you can’t stand her and might even bad-mouth her and try to sabotage her. The next time you see Karen, you give her a dirty look and soon other teammates notice the communication breakdown.

You started with real observable data, the way a video recorder would record it. Email and voicemail were not returned. You added meanings and made assumptions based on the meaning added to that data / facts. You drew conclusions and made decisions based on your assumptions. Then you took action based on those conclusions and assumptions.

Each time you interact with Karen, you seek evidence to support your conclusions and assumptions, as you constantly leap up the ladder of inference. Each time you do that, the reflexive loop gets tighter and tighter as you convince yourself that Karen is out to get you, when in fact you are creating the reality to support your decision.

How perceptions affect our beliefs in everything that is said and done:

1. Data – What we actually see and hear.
2. Interpretation / reasoning – How what we see and hear makes us think and feel.
3. Conclusions – What we believe based on how we think and feel.

You can’t live your life without adding meaning or drawing conclusions. It would be an inefficient, tedious way to live. However, you can improve your communications through reflection and by using the ladder of inference in three ways: Becoming more aware of your own thinking and reasoning (reflection); Making your thinking and reasoning more visible to others (advocacy); and Inquiring into others’ thinking and reasoning (inquiry).

Once the concepts behind the ladder of inference are understood, you have a safe way to stop a conversation in its tracks and ask several questions:

What is the observable data behind that statement?
Does everyone agree on what the data is?
Can you talk me through your reasoning?
How did we get from that data to these abstract assumptions? When you said “[your inference],” did you mean “[my interpretation of it]”?

You can ask for data in an open-ended way: “Karen, why haven’t you returned my calls or answered my emails?”

You can test your assumptions: “Karen, are you upset with me?”

Or you can simply test the observable data: “You haven’t returned my calls or emails, Karen.” To which she might reply: “Yeah, I’ve been on vacation and I’m snowed under right now. What do you need?”

Note that you don’t say, “Karen, I think you’ve moved way up the ladder of inference. Here’s what you need to do to get down.”

The point of this method is to make your thinking processes visible in order to see what the differences are in your perceptions and what you have in common.

Adapted from: http://www.yvonnefbrown.com on 10 March 2014.

Our beliefs have a powerful impact on the conclusions we draw and actions we take. Being conscious of the ladder of inference, may add different meanings and assumptions based on what you observe. Covey says “To change ourselves effectively, we first had to change our perceptions.”

Question 2

2.1 Stephen Covey: Principle-centred people

Covey (1994) strongly suggests that people can only experience true success and happiness if they learn and integrate the principles of character ethic.

From the book First things first (Covey, Merrill and Merrill, 1994), lists eight discernible characteristics of a principle-centred individual which will now be discussed in more detail.

2.1.1 They are more flexible and spontaneous than others. They consider plans and schedules to be important, but are not confined by them. They are willing to explore new avenues even if they are unsure of what the outcome may be. They take initiative and are resourceful in achieving their objectives. Derek Shirley, the Managing Director of a training company I work for is a true reflection of this; he is passionate about the organisation and what he does. He is not restricted by current products and processes that work, but constantly seeks ways to improve the learning experience of our learners with innovative concepts and processes. 2.1.2 They are continually learning. These individuals are exceptional in their achievements and are well read. Even though Derek has achieved a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology, he continually seeks to better himself through training, workshops and informative talks. He is open to new ideas and suggestions that will stimulate his mind.

2.1.3 They enjoy life more than others. They learn from their mistakes and are not critical of themselves or others. Derek is realistic and programmatic in achieving what he sets out to do. He is content with who he is and lives in the now without disregarding his plans for the future.

2.1.4 They radiate positive energy. A principle-centred person is cheerful, pleasant and happy. Derek exudes this through his positive energy which is felt by the staff that work for him. What is also notable about Derek are the people that are drawn to him in both his personal life and business. The team that works for him are strong and dynamic, and feed off his positive energy. He is able to neutralise or sidestep negative energy sources with his effective problem solving skills.

2.1.5 They have richer, more rewarding relationships than others. These individual don’t overreact to negative behaviours, criticism or human weakness. As mentioned previously, Derek is calm when dealing with difficult people or situations, and will identify the root cause of the problem before going into solution mode. He does not label, stereotype or prejudice people, but rather identifies their potential and facilitates their growth – which I have personally experienced.

2.1.6 They are synergistic. They are change catalysts and seek ways to build on their strengths and work to complement their weaknesses with the strengths of others. Derek is able to separate the people from the problem in adversarial situations and get to the root cause of the problem.

2.1.7 They become more confident and secure than others. Derek is confident, charismatic and values a good quality of life for himself and those around him. He is humble and appreciative of who he is and what he has achieved. He is able to live happily by what he believes and values.

2.1.8 They lead balanced lives. We live in a world that is rapidly changing which places great on demands on individuals and society. These demands can result in people becoming workaholics, political fanatics, food addicts, pleasure addicts or fasting martyrs. However, principle-centred people don’t allow themselves to be affected by these demands and actively lead physical, mental, social and spiritual lives. I remember Derek telling me about an analogy he had heard been told by the CEO of Coca Cola Enterprise, Brian Dyson – The analogy of life and juggling balls.

Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls in the air. You name them – work, family, health, friends and spirit, and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back.

But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same.

You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”

Source: http://www.mycareertopia.com/are-you-juggling-with-your-life/ on 10 March 2014. It made me realize that in order to maintain a balanced quality of life I would need to:

Balance time between myself, my family and friends.
Focus on my health and fitness.
Be spiritually fulfilled.
Balance my spending between instant gratification and long-term financial security. Recognise that jobs are “temporary” assignments; as long as I focus on developing and maintaining an extended network, I will always find work.

This analogy made a lasting impression on me and taught me in order to be truly successful and happy one must lead a balanced life.

Questtion 3

3.1 Labour factors that influence organisations and matters such as employment in South Africa

There are various labour factors that influence organisations and matters such as employment in South Africa. These are unemployment, legislation and education.

In the past many people were denied the opportunity to gain a basic education. This led to a lack of skills and denied them gainful employment in the labour market. Also Du Toit (1998) says that strikes have had a major impact on the labour market in South Africa.

According to Rossouw (2012), the years 2007 and 2010 saw the largest and most extended strike actions in the history of the South African education system. Members of all teacher unions took part, their protest actions ranging from one day strikes, by some unions, to an extended strike of several weeks. The salary disputes were resolved when the unions accepted the salary increases that the government had finally offered. The effect of this type of prolonged industrial action in the education sector may prove to have severe consequences for the country says Rossouw (as cited in Cohen, 2010:2; Rossouw, 2010:16). Deacon and Cilliers (2009) make it clear that the sporadic strike actions in South Africa illustrate the fact that the legal system of the country should regulate employment relations and grievances effectively. Sufficient mechanisms should be put in place to manage all forms of dissatisfaction.

Source: http://www.ajol.info/index.php/saje/article/viewFile/76591/67041 on 10 March 2014.

More recently in the Industrial action report 2012, a total of 99 strike incidents were recorded in 2012 as compared to 67 in 2011, 74 in 2010, 51 in 2009 and 57 in 2008. Working days lost were during 2012 amounted to 3.3 million (3 309 884) in 2012 (involving 241 391 employees) as compared to 2.8 million (2 806 656) in 2011 (involving 203 138 employees). In terms of wages lost, R6.6 billion was lost in wages of striking workers during 2012.

Two key features of industrial action during 2012 include the following:

Working days lost by industry were most prominent in mining (82.4%), followed by manufacturing (5.7%), community (4.1%) and agriculture (3.7%) during 2012; and

Wages, bonus and other compensation still remain the main reasons for work stoppages in South Africa.

Source: http://www.labour.gov.za/DOL/media-desk/media-statements/2013/industrial-action-report-2012 on 10 March 2014.

The aftermath of the Marikana / Lonmin miners’ strike in 2012, which his turned violent on 16 August, where over 30 miners were killed and almost 80 were injured, is still felt and spoken of today. Ironically this incident took place on the 25-year anniversary of a nationwide South African miners’ strike. What is of great concern is that subsequent to this strike, the platinum mines are still facing ongoing strikes in 2014.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has revealed that job losses as the result of armed conflicts, the brain drain – the ongoing emigration of highly skilled people and HIV/AIDS continue to plague Africa.

According to the Global Employment Trends 2004, the brain drain is Africa’s biggest problem.

Literacy rates in South Africa have increased from 83 percent in 1996 to 89 percent in 2001; however, this positive quality is strongly threatened by the realities of HIV/AIDS. According to Pembrey (2005) the decline in school enrolment is one of the most visible effects of the epidemic. The best and cost-effective way to address the above is through basic education.

It is evident that the current government is aware of the long-term implications these variables will have on labour in South Africa and intends to address these variables with new developments which include:

the recent establishment of the legislation in which the rights of domestic workers are addressed;

the introduction of South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) and the development of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF), which has seen the academic world increasing the value it attaches to prior learning;

the introduction of the Labour Relations Act, the Employment Equity Act and the Constitution, Acts which have contributed to a much more diverse workforce and protect the rights of the individual.

Pravin Gordhan the Minister of Finance stated in his 2014 budget that since 1994, there has been substantial progress in transforming the lives of South African citizens. The average income of South Africans has increased by over 30 per cent, and will continue to rise in the years ahead. More than 5.9 million jobs have been created since 1996. There has been near-universal school enrolment and the steady increase in average years of education for both men and women which have improved the life prospects of millions of South Africans. Access to basic services has grown rapidly across the country. More people than ever have access to housing, education and services. Black participation in the economy has expanded and there has been a transformation of the middle class.

The past 20 years have seen many positive improvements but it was noted by Gordhan that government must not lose sight and that more must be done to improve management and accountability at all levels of government. The labour relations environment needs more stability. The high indebtedness of many vulnerable workers must be addressed.

Source: http://www.treasury.gov.za on11 March 2014

It will be interesting to see what the next 20 years brings and what the results will be on the new developments mentioned above.

Question 4

4.1 Types of possible opportunities available to an individual within the four core domains of partagogy.

There are four core domains in the learning science if partagogy, family life, livelihood, civic affair and environmental stewardship.

Without the partagogical method we cannot obtain the specific knowledge and skills needed to access and create participation opportunities.

“Human capacity” refers to an individual’s ability to perform tasks which are necessary to survive and prosper. Human capacity has both personal and social relevance. Capable individuals are able to access and use opportunities available in the environment. Capable societies, in turn, are those which can equitably maximize the participation opportunities available to their citizens.

There are three types of possible opportunities available to the individual.

Participation opportunities
Participation opportunities represent the potential productive interactions in which individuals can engage that allow them to contribute to the development of their nations, communities and families. Participation opportunities span the course of a person’s life cycle and evolve accordingly. They include the chance to go to school, secure gainful employment, influence political or civic affairs, promote family development and protect the environment. Such opportunities also encompass the chance to partake in agricultural extension activities, cultural events or entrepreneurial behaviour.

Available participation opportunities
Countries and regions differ in terms of available participation opportunities, that is the range of settings and situations in which these productive interactions are possible at a fixed point in time. For example, in an environment characterised by centralised civic structures, high unemployment and low levels of school enrolment, available participation opportunities would be considered relatively scarce. Conversely, in a society where individuals have ample access to education, jobs, the support services needed to raise healthy children, and where there are well-defined occasions to influence community affairs, available participation opportunities can be characterised as abundant accessed participation opportunities.

Accessed participation opportunities
Accessed participation opportunities describe those participation opportunities that individuals actually utilise. As such, they represent a subset of the available participation opportunities found in any particular setting. The notion of accessed participation opportunity is a modern-day analogue to the old saw. ”You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” A citizen may encounter a participation opportunity, but choose to ignore it. Or, a participation opportunity may be present in the environment but unknown to the individual. Relatedly, opportunities may also be inaccessible to some because gender, ethnicity or income serve as barriers to participation.

Without partagogy, then our participation opportunities are limited. Human capacity development therefore is the product of a continual interaction between the individual and society. Conclusion

All human beings have different perceptions. How they perceive things has a direct impact on how they respond to world around them. In order to change your behavior your perceptions need to change. In order to achieve this people need to be aware of available opportunities and how to go about accessing and using these opportunities. Through human capacity development individuals are able to fulfill their full potential.


Brown, Y. The Ladder of Inference: How assumptions can cause miscommunication. From:
http://yvonnefbrown.com/articles/the-ladder-of-inference/. (Accessed on 10 March 2014)

Dryburgh, J. Careertopia. (2009). The analogy of life and juggling balls. From: http://www.mycareertopia.com/are-you-juggling-with-your-life/. (Accessed on 10 March 2014)

Gordhan, P. (2014). 2014 Budget speech.
From: http://www.treasury.gov.za/documents/national%20budget/2014/speech/speech.pdf. (Accessed on 11 March 2014)

Ramutloa, L. (2013). Industrial action report 2012.
From: http://www.labour.gov.za/DOL/media-desk/media-statements/2013/industrial-action-report-2012 (Accessed on 11 March 2014)

Rossouw, JP. 2012. The feasibility of localised strike action by educators in cases of learner misconduct. South African Journal of Education, 32(2), 133-143.

Senge, P., Kleiner, A., Roberts, C., Ross, R., Smith, B. (1994). The fifth discipline field book: Strtagies and tools for building a learning organisation. London: Nicholas Brealey.

University of South Africa. Department of Industrial Psychology (2008). Study guide for IOP3073. Pretoria.

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