How we filter information

As the saying goes; perception is reality. We all filter the information we receive differently depending on our values, how we were raised, our past experiences and our general personality.

One person’s response to constructive feedback can be perceived as useful and an opportunity for growth, another will feel defeated, another may feel angry and resentful. 

To be a good leader, it certainly helps to have a good understanding of this concept and how it plays out and to better understand the people you work with and how they may perceive the information you are giving them. Having a general awareness of how they react to communication can allow you to tweak the way you communicate on an individual level to have better outcomes for both of you. 

This is where Wyatt Woodsmall can help; In his book The Science of Advanced Behavioral Modeling he lists over two hundred ways that we filter sensory information we receive from the world.

Let’s explore his top-level version of this concept. Wyatt identifies that people fall into one of five primary ‘filtering’ categories, based on a preference. 

  1. People who filter information with a PEOPLE preference – when recounting events or projects, they will focus on who they were with, who was there, who worked on the project, what they said, how they interacted with one another etc. 
  2. People who filter information with a PLACE preference – The location is of importance to these people; where the office is, whether they have a great view, how far from good cafes, the layout and the atmosphere of the office etc.
  3. People who filter information with a THINGS preference – Things are of most importance to these people – what they bought in their lunch break, the food, the ambience, new outfits, new phones etc.
  4. People who filter information with an INFORMATION preference – These people have a preference to find out and share information, they may like to provide a lot of background information about a task at hand, they might be interested in facts, they are probably interested in the world around them and all the current affairs. 
  5. People who filter information with an ACTIVITIES preference – These people might be more interested in all the activities involved – how they can get involved. 

A great way to discover which category the people you work with fall into is to ask some simple questions. Like: “how was your holiday?” or “how was your Christmas?”

Do they talk about the people they got to catch up with, or do they talk about all the things they bought

Do they talk about things from an informative context, or do they talk about the places they visited and where the were situated.

Alternatively do they talk about all the activities they did eg: read a book, went to the beach…

Perhaps ask them what their dream job or role within the organization is and see what they naturally gravitate towards. 

If you naturally have a people preference, you may be drawn to careers like counselling, service, sales.

People who have a preference for place would choose a career where the place they work is significant, such as working for the iconic Sydney Opera House or The Royal Ballet.

People with a preference for things may work where there are lots of gadgets; a mechanic or perhaps in I.T. where they have access to the latest technology.

People with a preference for information might like to work in I.T., but from an information gathering perspective, or in research, a role where they gather information and draw conclusions.

If you have a preference for activity, you might like to work in a job with movement such as building, landscape gardening, or even corporate jobs that involve a variety of tasks.

So how is all of this really relevant in a work context?

Interestingly, when you have a group of individuals all working together in a team, and all with different filtering preferences, you can naturally get some discord, not everyone will be aligned with the same focus.

Some will be intent on getting all the information just right before starting the job at hand, others focused on ensuring the right team synergies, while others are more focused on the things involved – the processes and the technologies. Some may focus on collaboration and want to hold meetings and brainstorms; others just want to work individually.

This can certainly cause tension in the workplace and even conflict. By recognising how people work, their filtering preferences, and our own, we can better adapt strategies, processes and communications to cater to everyone.

For example, if someone does not have a preference for things, they may not be drawn to the technologies to help them do their job better. As a manager you can help empower them and train them and encourage them to better utilize these ‘things’. 

Likewise, if someone has a preference for information, when briefing them on tasks, make sure you provide plenty of background information, hold a meeting so they can ask questions and gather as much information as possible, or put them in charge of research and debriefing – any information gathering tasks your team could benefit from. 

Someone with a preference for places might be responsive going out for lunch at a nice restaurant, or having a coffee one-on-one each week. 

Understanding people is a really important aspect of good leadership. 

If your leadership team could do with my help in 2023 get in touch today, I’d love to hear from you.

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