As a manager…selective perception…


I find myself attempting to relate all of the information that we have learned within this course to be a learning experience.  Looking for the information to change how I am doing things in my life to better my experiences outside of the “classroom” so to speak.  One topic that really caught my attention in the lesson on applying social psychology to organization is the concept of selective perception.

Selective perception is noted by Schneider, Gruman, and Coutts (2012) as rewarding or reprimanding one person’s behavior while not noticing when others do the same behavior.  This type of perception can sometime sneak up on someone as a manager and it is a very easy thing to fall into.  Being aware of such flaws in perception, a person can make constant efforts to avoid this error and be more fair to his or her employees.

I have thought about many times when this has happened and in supervising many employees it can become a bit commonplace.  Sometimes behaviors of one person will stick out to you, whereas others may not be noticed.  They fly under the radar, so to speak.  As a manager, understanding this and making yourself aware of this is the best way to curb this altogether and learning about this topic has changed the way in which I manage.  I have spent a good deal of time in the last few months evaluating the ways in which I am fair and I am working to reduce my selective perception in daily situations at work.  Because of this awareness, I have been much more cognizant about the actions of my employees and the consistency in dealing with different situations which have arisen.

Development of manager trainings in selective perception would be beneficial for many different agencies.  This type of perception can become problematic, especially when it regards disciplinary action or performance of an employee.  Through my experience, I noticed that I was much more aware of my perceptions during day to day experiences that I felt as though I was handling  situations more fairly, and I am sure that other managers could have the same experience.  By learning about this perception flaw, people who are in leadership positions could develop their own styles to avoid falling into this flaw.  Ongoing evaluation of the consistency and fairness of a manager is important to ensuring success and employee satisfaction, so any program which encourages such could benefit the organization as a whole.

Although my experience could be unique to me, I tend to believe that this experience and understanding of this concept would be beneficial to others in leadership positions.  I learned about my own perceptions and moved towards a more consistent leadership style.  This seems as though it would be an easy trap to fall back into so ongoing evaluation of my own personal skills is important, and would be important to anyone looking to grow as a leader and avoid selective perceptions when dealing with their employees.

Schneider, F., Gruman, J. & Coutts, L. (2012). Applied social psychology: understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Los Angeles: Sage.


  1. Paul Michael Pozzi

    This post really stuck out to me on two levels. One, as a former leader in the military I understand the need, as a manager, to self-assess and remain cognizant of how my interactions and leadership of various situations impacted our team. Without the constant self / team assessment we would have been faced with innumerable situations that could have resulted in a team member’s loss of life or limb. I have found more often then not that this self / team assessment occurs more frequently in the military branches leading to less selective perception (Schneider, Gruman, and Coutts, 2012) due to the fact that lives are literally at stake.
    In contrast, I have found working in the civilian sector that selective perception as noted by Schneider, Gruman, and Coutts (2012) is quite rampant. My current job can be cited as an example for this very thing and I have fell circumstance to selective perception on several occasions. For example, while I work full time shift work and take a full course load, I have received no special treatment. Meanwhile, colleagues of mine receive special treatment to construct their own hours around their school schedules. In another instance, I have been counseled on maintaining my professionalism while avoiding conflicts of interest, while at the same time another coworker readily seeks out situations that could be construed as conflicts of interests at the political level with full knowledge of and approval for such by the management team.
    While I believe that it is crucial to avoid these selective perceptions I also believe that even with training, marginalization or elimination of selective perception will be next to impossible on two counts. One because ultimately we are creatures of habit whom more often than not shy away from introspection in order to avoid cognitive dissonance and the need to change ourselves. And two because our society is rife with individuals who rose to power based on selective perception. Just look at our political system: it is enamored with this very ideology. As Schneider, Gruman, and Coutts (2012) said, “poor team performance and ineffective decision making are not typically defined as social problems, they are certainly social in that they occur in the context of groups, organizations, and people interacting with other people.” Thus, we find ourselves face to face with a behemoth of a problem: how to stop selective perception when selective perception has become our society’s apparent norm.

    Schneider, F., Gruman, J. & Coutts, L. (2012). Applied social psychology: understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Los Angeles: Sage.

  2. Erika Rashelle Arredondo

    I think you are right about the importance of applying social psychology in daily life, and I applaud that you are doing so within your career as a manager. That being said, I am thinking about more concrete ways to intervene on the problem of selective perception.

    For example, you say “Sometimes behaviors of one person will stick out to you, whereas others may not be noticed,” and generally remark that this is an important topic to reflect on. However, I think we could better address this issue if we understood specifically which attentional (or other) biases are at play. While obvious candidates like racism and sexism are usually addressed by human resources, other forms of in-group bias can be to blame, such as a preference for those who share our interests, sense of humor, work schedules, etc. In order to meaningfully address selective perception, I think it’s important to understand not only that it is happening, but also why.

    Having recognized this potential selective tendency in human attention, are there ways to make more objective observations about employees in a management context? How would you know if you really were being consistent in your allocation of attention?

    One example of a reasonably-objective approach might be to have employees set out short-term goals for performance or self-improvement (say over the next 3-6 months), as well as ways of measuring the outcome. At the end of the given period, the employee and the manager could both measure performance, and compare their scores. While not eliminating bias entirely, this would achieve the goals of ensuring that everyone’s progress receives equal notice, and that everyone is measured by a more objective (or at least inter-subjective) standard. In the worst case, such a program could illuminate systematic bias when manager and self-rated scores consistently diverge.

Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar