It is not until we think about human perceptions that we realize their fundamental importance in communication and relationship building. This paper is a reflective exercise, whose main goal is to analyze individual perceptions of others. The paper includes a discussion of the way perceptions help to define whom individuals would like to know better and build relationships with. This paper also discusses the way perceptions and feelings change after the actual acquaintance and describes perceptions of other people. Recommendations to change negative attitudes and erroneous perceptions are provided.
Keywords: perceptions, communication, relationship, interpretive, interactivity, bias.
Human Communication – Perceptions
It is not until we think or talk about perceptions that we realize the fundamental influence perceptions have on the quality of human interactions and relationship building. Perceptions are the foundation of interpersonal communication, and their accuracy often becomes the guiding light in the development of productive relationships. Perceptions are actually the first reaction of our mental and emotional bodies to a new environment, and once we understand how we perceive the environment, we can further incorporate these perceptions in the development of our image or the message we want to send to the public (Knapp & Hall, 2009). I have always been extremely sensitive to any new environment. The first perceptions of the new surroundings created the basis and left a deep trace on my future developments within that surrounding. Before entering the college, I had a strong perception of formality and stylized communication behaviors (Knapp & Hall, 2009). However, the college environment provides sufficient flexibility in establishing and maintaining human relations, and this change in formality perceptions further shaped my beliefs about the people I met and built relationships with.
It is not unnatural for humans to choose those whom they would like to know better and those whom they are not interested in. Perceptions (and first impressions) are critical factors in these choices. Now that I look back to my first days in college, I recognize that my perceptions of interest in other people were shaped by more than one factor. Among others were individuals’ style, their communication patterns, and their demographic characteristics. It is the so-called ecological model of my perceptions that greatly influenced my relationships with others and their perceptions of my personality.
First and foremost, demographic characteristics play a great role in the way I perceive the world. For me, appearance often becomes the primary source of information about the person. The biased nature of these perceptions cannot be disregarded, but it is clear that even the most egalitarian individuals do have their biases or stereotypes associated with other people’s demographic status (Street, Gordon & Haidet, 2007). The diversity of students’ demographic characteristics became one of my main discoveries during the first days in the college. Consciously or subconsciously, I was interested in people who resembled me, my appearance, my age and gender. The second major factor of my perceptions was other students’ communication style. In any encounter or other form of social interaction, talk is the central element of interactivity and relationship building (Street et al., 2007). I listened to what others had to say and how they wanted to say that; I was automatically drawn to the students who displayed greater friendliness, openness, patience, and willingness to build relations as part of their communication style. Again, in my search for friendliness and openness I intentionally limited myself to the people of my age, social status, and other demographic characteristics. Today, I must say that was one of the greatest mistakes I ever made.
It should be noted that perceptions of warmth greatly influence the way humans build relations and establish communication ties. “Environments that make us feel psychologically warm encourage us to linger, relax, and feel comfortable” (Knapp & Hall, 2009, p.102). I thought that I would be able to build a circle of friendships and a network of acquaintances with the people of my age and status. However, today, I am surrounded by people of diverse backgrounds, who enrich my social environment and provide the comfort and psychological warmth I was looking for. All perceptions are subjective and partial (Wood, 2012). Simply put, our perceptions are built more on ourselves than on the objective realities of the world (Wood, 2012). I had an interest in students who displayed similar demographic characteristics, and prior to getting to know them better, I had a feeling that we would find much in common. With time, the perceptions of demography gave place to the perceptions of warmth and communication style. Most perceptions I had had about other students turned out to be either false or too subjective (biased). The people I had been interested in initially did not actually meet my expectations.
Much more interesting was the way others perceived my personality and presence in the college. As long as I remember myself, I tried to understand what other people thought about me. I realize that, whatever the attitudes people have towards my personality, I will hardly ever grasp their meaning. We are not mind readers, and we cannot understand what other people feel, think, or perceive (Wood, 2012). Nevertheless, I have a feeling that many people in the college perceived me as either weird or distant. I am not a person who approaches people directly and offers friendship. I spend a lot of time observing others, their behaviors and actions. These perceptions of distance are an essential ingredient of interpersonal communication and relationship building (Knapp & Hall, 2009). Yet, they may also impede greater involvement in interactions and friendships. Involvement is defined as the quantity of talk, its quality, the amount of time individuals spend together, and the perception of sharing they develop as a result of these interactions (Owen, 1984). I have a feeling that my ‘distant’ attitudes towards most college people slowed down the progress of interactivity and communication. I also think that others’ perceptions of my personality changed the moment we started to communicate and developed some kind of closeness. Certainly, I do not and cannot fully understand what people think of me. Since the moment I entered the college and until present, others’ perceptions of my personality have remained one of the greatest enigmas. I know that the best I can do is to clarify and check these perceptions with those whom I consider my friends, but I have been unable to do this so far.
In light of everything said in this paper, there are two things I would like to change. First, I still hold biased perceptions with regard to other people’s demographic characteristics and appearance. Second, I still prefer guessing and mind reading to approaching people directly and checking my perceptions with them. In terms of bias, the first thing I need to understand is that all perceptions are subjective and partial (Wood, 2012). Therefore, judging people by their age, status, or appearance can lead to serious mistakes. Demographic characteristics and appearance would never create a full picture of other person’s communication preparedness, openness to new relationships, or willingness to get a new friend. Only through a detailed assessment of individuals’ communication styles and behaviors we can check our perceptions and develop a more reasonable understanding of each others’ characters. It is the same as distinguishing facts from inferences (Wood, 2012). I should focus on what people actually do and how they communicate, rather than make judgments that go beyond and distort these facts. I need to diversify my perceptions of interactivity and friendliness and stop dividing people by demographic categories. My college experiences have already confirmed that demographic perceptions are at least misleading and at worst biased.
I should also stop trying to guess what other people think of me and whether they want to develop a closer relationship or even friendship. Throughout my life, guessing has been one of my principal perception-building activities. I often assumed I could read other people’s minds. As a result, I often got myself into trouble. The greatest danger of mind reading is misinterpreting others (Wood, 2012), and people’s demographic characteristics play not the last role in the development of erroneous perceptions of others. More often than not, I have a feeling that I can read the hearts and minds of people who are of my age and gender and have a similar social status. As a result, instead of letting other people express themselves and build a new relationship the way I want, I impose my perspectives on them (Wood, 2012). Time has come to let other people express themselves and forget about mind reading, for the sake of greater interactivity and sustained relationship building in the diverse college environment.
Perceptions guide our communication behaviors. Numerous factors influence the development of individual perceptions. Demographic characteristics and communication styles have tangible effects on the way we perceive the reality. However, all perceptions are partial and subjective, and they can never create a full picture of the new environment. Added to this are the biased attitudes towards others’ demographic characteristics and styles. Time has come to let other people express themselves and forget about mind reading, for the sake of greater interactivity and sustained relationship building in the diverse college environment.