The view of ourselves is shaped by self-perception, which in turn was based on the feedback that we have received since being children. We have learned to look at the world as “what is” and what we know and have reconciled these views.

To make sense of what is going on around us, we employ the three-step approach of selecting certain stimuli from around us, organizing these into patterns that make sense to us, and interpreting them based on our past experiences, belief of how others should behave, expectations, knowledge, and personal moods. The steps are then: selection, organization, and interpretation. Within this three-step approach we have several sub-points, such as stereotyping, punctuation, and also negotiation.

This approach is, of course, strongly influenced by our self-concept, our senses, our age and health, our cultural background, and our social roles. Is it therefore not understandable that we constantly make mistakes when we interpret or give meaning to someone else’s words or behavior? We are all prone to jump to conclusions, and it is important to clarify meaning with perception checking. Perception checking is not just a mechanical tool that you can apply to every situation and have it work. Sometimes a single interpretation can be used. A complete perception check should be applied when the risk of misunderstanding or of sounding judgmental is high.

As telecommunicators, you also have the added burden of not being able to check for nonverbal behaviors or use them yourself in a call. That is why tone of voice and correct placement of emphasis on words is so essential. The cultural/ethnic background of the person with whom you interact is also important for your perception checking. Accents, broken English, idioms pertaining solely to certain culture groups can give you a hint to be extra careful. As this chapter points out, Western culture (Northern American and Western European) uses language a lot more directly and clearly in content than it is being used in Latin American, Asian, and Eastern European cultures. Perception checks applied to members of western cultures, where getting to the point quickly is emphasized, may be interpreted as rude by people from other cultures and have the effect of stifling what little information was given initially. When dealing with members from high-context cultures, it is always best to be patient and get the needed information in a less direct way.

Perception checking can clarify interpersonal communications. Clarification can also come by practicing empathy. This means that you set aside your own opinions and try to understand those of the other person. The emotional dimension of empathy requires you to get closer to the other person’s feelings. The third aspect of empathy is a genuine concern for the welfare of the other person. As telecommunicators you have already experienced in many situations how to apply empathy without sacrificing the professional detachment needed to solve the caller’s problem. Empathy does not mean that you have to sympathize and/or comment on the situation. You use empathy solely as a means to understanding the other person and using this knowledge as a tool to clarify meaning without agreement or pity.

A tool for building empathy is the pillow method. This tool is intended to take the place of perception checking when handling issues that are too complex or serious. As our text points out, with this method we look at a problem as having four sides and a middle, just like a pillow. We use this model to look at an issue from five different perspectives, and generally find that each perspective has some truth and overlapping.

Please know the key terms of this chapter and read the text thoroughly. I have listed some web links for further study or just for your enjoyment.

Web Links

Basic Self-Controls to Interact Effectively With People

Discover Your Emotional Empathy Profile

Empathy and Emotional Intelligence

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