Perceptual Style Theory (PST) is a new contribution to the field of type and style theories, based on the belief that the unique way an individual perceives the world forms his or her basis for natural potential, strengths, and the way they interact with others.
Created by Gary Jordan, Ph.D. and Lynda-Ross Vega, Perceptual Style Theory is the result of over 40 years of research and practical application. PST is built on seven key principles:
Perception is the process that allows us to assign meaning to the world around us. Perception creates our view of reality.
People perceive the world differently and consequently derive different meanings from the same event.
Perceptual differences can be grouped into 6 Perceptual Styles.
Perceptual Style is innate and does not change over time.
Natural skills and abilities are directly tied to Perceptual Style.
People develop Preferencesfor Interaction with others over the course of their early life experiences.
The innate Perceptual Style skills that people develop and recognize are a direct reflection of their Preferences for Interaction.
To gain a better grasp of the theory, let’s examine each of the seven Perceptual Style Theory principles in detail:
Principle #1: Perception is the process that allows us to assign meaning to the world around us. Perception creates our view of reality.
Perception is a complex process that our brains use to create meaning by contextualizing the input from our five senses, our innate biases, and our life experiences.
We create meaning moment by moment by first taking input from our senses, then filtering with our innate biases, and then validating by our life experience. All this happens in the blink of an eye. Over time this process creates a consistent view of the world that is our reality.
OK, that’s a lot to take in. So let’s break it down a little bit further.
What are the five senses? Sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Research shows that the average person gets 75% of their input from sight, 13% from hearing, and 12% from smell, taste, and touch. Of course, for people who have lost one or more of their five senses, the other senses become more acute and fill in the void.
The five senses tell us what is happening in the moment. They also contribute to memories – a song, a smell, a taste each can remind us of a moment in the past.
Innate biases are hard-wired in our brains, and they differ between people. The type of biases we are talking about have to do with behaviors, not beliefs. These biases are best described by Perceptual Style. For example, because of my PerceptualStyle, I’m predisposed (a synonym for innate bias) to take risks. You may share that same innate bias and PerceptualStyle, or if your PerceptualStyle is different, you might be predisposed to talk a lot, enjoy bargaining, seek out community, observe protocols, or look for problems to solve.
Innate bias is a gift. Rather than being born with a blank slate for a brain, we each have predispositions that jump-start our understanding and allow us to take action. To quote Shakespeare, “there is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
Life experience plays an important part in the process of perception as it adds validation. Our brains take in the information from our senses, add the context of our innate biases, and then check the perception against what we’ve known to be true for us in the past. If we’ve had similar experiences before, it may flavor our perception of the current moment. If there’s nothing in our memory that is relevant, then our brains take note of the current perception and store it to build on later.
That’s the fascinating part of perception – it can both build and solidify over time. It’s your choice based on how much emphasis you put on the life experience validation. You can choose to be “set in your ways” or open to new options (or a combination of those two extremes).
Perception defines your view of reality. It helps you make meaning of the world around you. That’s pretty profound.
Principle #2: People perceive the world differently.
It’s a fact. People truly do perceive the world differently, and this differing perception leads to different conclusions about what is important, how things should be done, and what is the “truth” of any situation.
Research implies that perception is actually a filter applied to objective reality, resulting in natural differences between people.
Human tendency is to be unaware of the filter of perception and to believe that we see the world around us objectively. Social psychology calls this Naïve Realism - believing what we see is right and that people who disagree with us must be uninformed, irrational, or biased. The truth is what you see is real for you but what others see is real for them. Differences in perception occur because none of us has direct access to objective reality.
We all use the filter of perception to make meaning for ourselves. This isn’t a bad thing – it’s a gift that prevents us from being overwhelmed by the amount of input we receive on a constant basis.
There’s a lot of unnecessary conflict and drama in the world that could be avoided by understanding and applying this simple concept. We don’t all have the same filter, so we see things differently, and that’s OK. This reality gives us a place to begin conversation.
Principle #3: Perceptual differences can be grouped into 6 Perceptual Styles.
Perceptual Style describes differences in the process of perception that creates meaning.
We believe perceptual meaning is impacted by fundamental behavioral drivers (fundamental aspects of being human). After lots of research, we decided the fundamental aspects of being human that are key to perception are:
Experience – the content of participation in an event
Knowledge – observation, learning, and reasoning
Community – fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, purpose
Possibility – belief about or mental picture of the future
Accomplishment – successful achievement of an objective
Rules – prescribed guide for conduct or action
Factors such as time orientation, learning preferences, intuition, motivation, leadership are all secondary to the primary drivers. In fact, these secondary factors are actually influenced by Perceptual Style.
So why 6? There’s no magic in the number. We didn’t pick the number 6 out of a hat and then work backward to define each one. Rather we correlated all the data we had about fundamental drivers and innate bias, and the result was 6 unique Perceptual Styles.
Each Perceptual Style represents a distinct grouping of fundamental behavior drivers that result in distinctive perceptual experiences and characteristic behaviors.
All six Perceptual Styles are normal and healthy ways of perceiving the world. None is better than or more accurate in its perception than any other. They each have unique strengths and specific blind spots. They all shine in some situations and struggle in others. It’s part of being human.
Principle #4: Perceptual Style is innate and does not change over time.
You are born with your Perceptual Style. It is inherent, not inherited—big difference.
Your Perceptual Style has been a part of you since your first breath. But because early childhood is about growing and socializing, it’s often difficult to see the specific markers until you reach early adolescence.
As a note of interest, we don’t provide assessments to children prior to the age of 16. Our research shows that young people need enough life experience to relate to the vocabulary of the assessments, and they also need the ego independence to relate to their own internal experience.
Some people will claim their Perceptual Style changes over time, but our observation is that they are confusing behaviors demanded by others that they learned to use with personal perception. What does change over time is your awareness of your Perceptual Style, not your actual style. (We do have the studies and numbers to prove this – check out the section on our research, specifically about reliability and validity).
Principle #5: Natural skills and abilities are directly tied to Perceptual Style.
There is an extensive but finite set of skills and behaviors that naturally align with each Perceptual Style. Realistically, you will never master all of the potential that is available to you, not because you don’t want to, but because there’s so much to choose from!
The alignment between skills and behaviors with Perceptual Style exists because people naturally see the things associated with their Perceptual Style. Those things are easy for them to grasp, understand, and use.
None of us has the luxury of only developing our natural skills. Everyone also develops acquired skills – those skills that are not aligned with their Perceptual Style but are necessary for their survival. These are things we learn to do because they must be done either because our parents, teachers, or others in authority tell us we must do them or because there’s no one else in our circle of friends and family that can and someone has to step up.
Early markers of natural and acquired skills are the joy and the resistance that young children express towards specific activities. Think back on your childhood – the things you loved doing and the things you tried to avoid. Many of those preferences and avoidances are with you today because of your Perceptual Style.
Principle #6: People develop Preferences for Interaction with others over the course of their early life experiences.
Preferences for Interaction are just that, how we prefer to interact with other people and with ourselves.
Preferences for Interaction fall into three distinct categories – Transactions, Operations, and Resources – and each of us has equal capacity for the behaviors associated with all three. You use behaviors and skills from each category every day:
Transactions involve behaviors and skills that are focused on achieving agreement through the exchange of information. Bargaining, convincing, making promises, settling arguments, representing, mentoring, selling, and persuading are examples of Transactions based skills.
Operations involve behaviors and skills that are focused on doing and accomplishing – answering the questions of “what?” “how?” and “when?” Planning, organizing, building, fixing, coordinating, installing, and guiding are examples of Operations based skills.
Resources involve behaviors and skills that are focused on enabling yourself or others by providing information, action, or support. Defining strategies, researching, teaching, counseling, sharing, advising, coaching, and connecting people are examples of Resources based skills.
As we interact, from early childhood through young adulthood, skills, and behaviors that fall into each of the three Preferences for Interaction (PFI) categories get differentially reinforced or blocked.
Reinforcement and blocking come from the environment and significant authority figures in our lives – think of parents, teachers, clergy, and extended family, for example. This process of reinforcement and blocking determines your Preferences for Interaction order. Each of us likes one PFI more than the other two and one less than the other two (that, of course, leaves one in the middle).
Principle #7: The innate Perceptual Style skills that people develop and recognize are a direct reflection of their Preferences for Interaction.
The process of PFI development is reflected in the skills that people develop and enjoy.
PFI development creates a structure within which potential natural skills are left undeveloped. This is the basis for personal growth throughout our lifetimes.
Perceptual Style Theory has a myriad of practical uses. Explore some today!
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