Shifting Your Lens


At the risk of setting off a Geek Alert:   I read Popular Science magazine. In a past issue Erin Biba’s article, “Not Just the Facts,” really touched a nerve. Biba explains that we largely favor scientists whose conclusions match our own existing beliefs.

Think U.S. Climate Change debate.

Otherwise rational people, it seems that “selective perception” rules us – if we let it. Walter Lippmann, a Pulitzer-winning journalist and U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient in 1964 said, “We do not first see, then define, we define first and then see.”

Bibi makes me want to add “hear” to Lippmann’s statement.

Being Human Means Using Selective Perception

Selective perception is very human. We put facts through a personal lens that is so influenced by our own beliefs, our own worldview, that even in the face of incontrovertible evidence we’ll distort what we see and hear to conform to what we expect, what we already believe.

Bias, stereotypes, or just plain mindlessness – selective perception can hurt us. It can limit how well we connect with others. Our decision-making capacities might be hampered. It may stop us from reaching our full potential, our joy in life.

Acknowledging Selective Perception

More times than I can count, I have relied upon my beliefs to make quick decisions. Often, I’ve been frustrated when “the facts” I’ve stated didn’t automatically bring others around to my way of thinking. Regularly, I default to my own beliefs before hearing others out.

Granted, I’ve done a few bold things to challenge my selective perception. For instance, I realized that I blindly believed that women in Saudi Arabia were not afforded human rights (without ever having talked with a Saudi woman or having been in the country). I tested my belief by accepting a consulting contract to assist the Kingdom’s government in starting a new college for women. (My selective perception was on track that time and I cheered this year as Saudi women voted–and voted into office other women.)

A couple of years ago I took a stab at defying my selective perception through an 8-week “tolerance challenge.” One day a week, I accessed a different news source in an attempt to shake up what I believe to be true about what’s happening in the country. I watched Fox News, for example, and found that the presentation of “facts” differed sharply from what I define them as.

I’m continuing that “tolerance” practice as I found it helps me better understand what others across the nation are thinking. After all, it’s not just the facts that shape our national dialogue and national policies.

But mostly, I’m as selective perception-driven as the next human who focuses on struggling well to overcome it rather than deluding myself into believing I can defeat it entirely.

Overcoming Selective Perception:  Start Shifting Your Lens

Mitigating our own selective perception can be tough. We’re on information overload most of the time. There are those who seek to manipulate us – advertisers, media, politicians and even organizational leaders – who use what a whip-smart Texas woman I interviewed called “sound bite rhetoric” to ensure that we rely on selective perception rather than critical thinking to make decisions.


To loosen the reins of selective perception, our potentially harmful facts-distorting personal lens, try asking:

How motivated am I to see or hear things a certain way?

What expectations do I bring to what I hear and see?

How would I see or hear things differently without these expectations and motives?

How many people have I consulted with who don’t share my expectations and motives? (Hint:  if you answer zero, you may be letting selective perception hold you back.) 

What action could I take or experience could I have that will challenge my selective perception about others or situations?








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