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Perceptual Style® Theory

Revolutionary Psychological Theory of Human Behavior

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, PSis the result of over 30 years of research and practical application. PST is built on seven key principles:  

       #1: People perceive the world differently.
  #2: Differences in perception result in psychological diversity, and psychological diversity is the most profound diversity there is.
  #3: Perceptual differences can be grouped into 6 Perceptual Styles.
  #4: Everyone believes that their way of experiencing the world is the right way and (until they learn differently) the only way!
  #5: A person's Perceptual Style is innate.
  #6: People are happiest and most satisfied in life when they are engaged in actions and activities that draw upon their natural capacities, skills, and abilities.
  #7: Most people do not use their natural capacities, skills, and abilities consciously, regularly, or to their advantage.

Principle #1: People Perceive the World Differently


Everyone experiences many different attitudes and approaches towards life in their interactions with others, but all too often these differences are seen as the result of a lack of knowledge, bias, or stubbornness. In other words, people often take a stance that they are right about the way they view things and others are wrong. PST offers an alternative to this judgmental stance by stating that the variations are due to biologically based perceptual differences. People literally 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. 


Differences Come Naturally


People generally assume that everyone perceives and responds to the same objective reality. Research implies that not only is that untrue, but perception is actually a filter applied to objective reality, resulting in natural differences between people.

Perception derives from sensation. It is the point at which we take the input we have received from our nervous system and assign meaning to it. Perception acts as a filter between the world and our understanding of it. Without interpretation perception cannot occur. 


Just a Different Slice of Reality


PST states that each person is limited by their perception to only a small portion of reality, and they build their beliefs, values, and conclusions about the world based on the portion of reality they perceive. From this perspective people who perceive the world differently from you are not wrong, they are just seeing a different slice of reality than you are.

Think about it for a minute – you’ve seen many examples of this in your life. From cop shows on TV where each witness to the same crime sees something different, youngwomanoldlady.jpgto sharing memories with someone and wondering why they got it wrong. And then there are the old adages like “seeing is believing” and “perception is reality,” both
with the hidden meaning of “how I see it is the right way and you need to adjust.”


There are great examples of the reality of perceptual differences in literature, film, and art. Some of our favorites are the book An Instance of the Finger Post by Ian Piers, the film Rashomon directed by Akira Kurosawa, and those fun optical illusion pictures like old woman/young woman shown to the left.


Principle #2: Differences in Perception Result in Psychological Diversity, and Psychological Diversity is the Most Profound Diversity There is


People’s psychology is built on their perception of the world around them. People make decisions about how to be and act in the world based on what they perceive. Because perception is different from person to person, people’s psychology is also different. This perceptual difference results in a psychological diversity that is the most important kind of diversity because it is hard wired, not changeable, and not overtly apparent. What this means is that without an understanding of psychological diversity there are many people whose actions, views, and approaches to life will make no sense to you. You may ascribe this disconnect to some more obvious difference between you such as “she’s a girl and I’m a boy and so she doesn’t get it.” 

The reality is psychological diversity cuts across all other types of diversity, and it is at the core of human differences. Believe it or not, you will find like-minded people (meaning people who see the world just like you do) in every other category of diversity. It’s not uncommon to feel more than a little surprised when this happens to you. So why is that? 


Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?


Society provides a non-stop barrage of labeling people into groups. We do it in sports (“the fans of XX team are always exceptionally rowdy”), politics (“all the XX party people are nuts”), age (“Baby boomers just don’t get it, Gen X understands”), etc, etc, etc. At the heart of any labeling is an attempt to qualify, quantify, or explain why there are differences between people.

Social differences such as language, culture, values, economic class, and religion are real, but they are the result of circumstance, environment, and learning. Other diversity categories are facts of birth. And, most importantly, so is psychological diversity. The way you perceive the world is innate. You are born with it, and it is an integral part of who you are and how you experience life. 

Psychological diversity is at the core of explaining the differences between people. All other types of diversity are secondary – literally layers on top of psychological diversity. 


Principle #3: Perceptual Differences Can Be Grouped Into 6 Perceptual Styles


In the process of gathering knowledge and striving to understand our world and our lives, human beings categorize. We do this as part of science – think of plant classifications, animal classifications, cloud types, soil types, food groups, etc. Creating categories is akin to shorthand. Each category has certain detailed characteristics that allow us to quickly understand commonalities and take action based on knowledge of the category. Without the existence of categories, we would all be left to gather our own knowledge through trial and error on a situation-by-situation basis. And we’d have no way to discuss common experience or facts. 

The same is true about understanding human behavior. Plato created the first written categories of behavior over 2300 years ago. Since then there have been many approaches to creating categories to explain – in shorthand – why people behave differently. Some of these approaches address social behaviors, some address pathology, and some attempt to describe destiny. The key to the usefulness of any approach to categorization is how well it explains every day experience. 

PST recognizes that everyone has aspects of who they are that are truly unique; however, there are high-level commonalities in perception that can be grouped together into six Perceptual Styles. Each Perceptual Style describes a different perceptual experience of the world and the many characteristic behaviors that are a result of that perception. Perceptual Style is measured by the PST Perceptual Style Assessment (PSA)

The differences between Perceptual Styles are real, meaning they reflect true differences in how the world is perceived; so acknowledging that the differences exist leads to understanding and appreciation of different points of view. 


6 Universal Psychological Experiences


Our research supports that Perceptual Style is innate and unchanging. It describes who a person is rather than surface level traits that change from circumstance to circumstance. The six Perceptual Styles do not exist on a continuum in which one gradually slides into the next. They reflect six distinctly different perceptually based psychological experiences of the world, each supporting an incredible range of natural capacities, skills, and abilities. 

The 6 Perceptual Styles are: 

  • Activity
  • Adjustments
  • Flow
  • Goals
  • Methods
  • Vision

No Negative Labels Allowed


We chose these names as the best single words that capture the essence of the complex perceptual experience each represents. In keeping with our strength-based approach, we made a conscious decision that in PST we were going to describe the positive side of each of the Perceptual Styles. We have experienced the positive and negative power of labels and have seen the damage that occurs when style labels are used as weapons to limit and exclude rather than as tools to understand and explain. Based on this last condition, we worked hard to choose labels that could not easily be used maliciously. 


Principle #4: Everyone Believes That Their Way of Experiencing the World is the Right Way and (Until They Learn Differently) the Only Way!


When people first learn about their Perceptual Style, they have a “wow” experience. As they read the description of their Perceptual Style they are surprised by how well the description fits them. It opens their eyes to things about themselves that they take for granted. They also experience a sense of deep validation. It really is an amazing experience. 

It is vital to fully understanding and using your natural skills that you have confidence that your way of perceiving the world is the right way. It is equally important to acknowledge that while it is the right way for you it’s not the right way for everyone, and that, in fact, there are five other Perceptual Styles that are equally right for those who have them. 

People experience perceptual differences with others in the way they communicate, deal with conflict, determine what is important, etc. Without the knowledge of Perceptual Styles, people often assume these differences are a matter of right and wrong – I’m right and you’re wrong. And when that happens, resolution becomes a battle of wills and a lot of time, effort, and emotion is wasted on arguing. Nobody really wins – it’s usually a case where one side just gives up or gives in. Much like an encounter with someone who does not speak your language, explaining your point of view slowly and loudly will not change the perception of someone who’s Perceptual Style is different from yours. 

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. Each is, however, an incomplete view of the world. Without input from others with different Perceptual Styles there are aspects of any situation that you will miss. 

Your Perceptual Style is at the core of a vast array of natural skills and talents that make you uniquely you. Claiming your natural talents and doing more of what you do best will bring you tremendous satisfaction, meaning, success, and happiness. And because we all thrive best in community, the richness of life expands 5-fold when you include the unique viewpoints and contributions of people who have Perceptual Styles different from yours. 


Principle #5: A Person’s Perceptual Style is Innate


Because Perceptual Style is innate, it determines what natural capacities, skills, and abilities we have. Just what do we mean by innate? You are born with it. It’s part of who you are. Just like any other part of you, it grows as you develop. So at age 3 for example, you definitely weren’t aware of it, but as your life experience grows, so does your use of the natural preferences of your Perceptual Style

Your Perceptual Style supports a broad range of skills and abilities for which you have natural inborn potential. Think about the people you know. All of us know someone who has a knack for organization, or someone who revels in chaos. We know people who jump in to lead, and others who enjoy being part of a team. And we’ve all experienced one person’s ability to do something easily and another’s inability to “get it” no matter how hard they try. 

That’s the concept of ‘natural’ capacities. When something comes naturally to you, it means it is supported by your Perceptual Style and you were born with the potential to excel at it. In order for it to develop into a full fledged skill, you just need a circumstance that creates the opportunity for you to use it on a consistent basis. 

None of us is limited to only our natural skills and talents. They’re just the ones that we have the potential to excel at with ease and a lot of enjoyment. We all learn or ‘acquire’ skills that are outside of our natural repertoire. They just take more focus and more effort to develop and sustain. And what’s more, they are natural to a Perceptual Style other than your own, so someone else does those things with natural ease.

When applying natural skills, you perform with an unconscious ease that allows for creativity and inventiveness. On the other hand, facility with an acquired skill takes conscious effort that ultimately drains your creative energy.


Principle #6: People are Happiest and Most Satisfied in Life When They Are Engaged in Actions and Activities That Draw Upon Their Natural Capacities, Skills, and Abilities


Building your daily actions around your natural skills – literally claiming Your Talent Advantage® – is what the sixth principle is all about. Knowing what you do naturally well makes a difference in all aspects of your life – family, friendships, hobbies, work, everything. Let’s use an example of your job to illustrate this point. 

A recent survey revealed that 61% of people polled said they hated (not disliked) their job. This represents a staggering amount of dissatisfaction. What is the cause of so much unhappiness for so many as they do something that occupies a large amount of their daily lives? 

Think back on how you chose what you do for a living. If you are like most people, you received very little career guidance based on your natural skills and landed in your career field by happenstance. The chance of ending up doing something that draws upon your natural skills if you followed this all too common “career path” are very small. The truth is very few of us have gotten any solid feedback in our lives about what we do well, and “Will this job allow me to use my natural gifts and skills?” is not a common question people ask themselves when job hunting. The sad fact is that far too many of us have little or no idea what our natural gifts and skills even are. 

When people take the time to discover what they do naturally well, consciously develop those skills, and actively seek employment that uses those skills, how they feel about themselves, their job, and life in general is remarkably different from the norm. Career guidance designed to help you discover your natural strengths and talents and then seek an area of employment where they will be used and appreciated is very rare. It takes a little effort to discover your natural strengths, but once you are clear on what you naturally do well, you can create a list of the top ten skills that you need to use regularly in a job in order for you to find it satisfying, stimulating, and meaningful. These ten skills become a checklist against which you can evaluate any job or career and determine if it is a fit for you.


Principle #7: Most People Do Not Use Their Natural Capacities, Skills, and Abilities Consciously, Regularly, or to Their Advantage.


It never ceases to amaze me how often people are their own harshest critics and assume some level of failure because they haven’t found the level of success or happiness they expect in life. The root of this unhappiness is usually a total disregard for what they do naturally well and repeated attempts to succeed with skills they have acquired rather than those they were innately gifted with. They focus on their inability to succeed as the problem instead of on their need to change the nature of the capacities, skills, and abilities they are using. 

Success and satisfaction in life or work is most often due to conscious development and use of natural strengths. Happiness and fulfillment in life and work is so elusive because, as both our experience and the statistics show, most people have little knowledge of what their natural strengths are. Why is that? 

Part of the answer lies in the misinterpretation of the old adage “anything worth having is worth working for”. You’ll find versions of this proverb in most every language in the world. The true meaning is that life doesn’t just hand you the things you want – you do need to consciously take action. The misinterpretation is the value placed on the word “work”. There’s an underlying assumption that work has to be hard, not fun. That’s why it’s called work – right? 

So, people tend to undervalue what they are naturally good at. Because it is easy for them, they assume everyone can do it. And because it’s not hard work, then it must not be the key to success. In fact, the exact opposite is true. The more you consciously use your natural skills, the more they become true talents – Your Talent Advantage – and the more enjoyment and success you have in all aspects of your life. This isn’t just a slogan, it’s true. 

We all learn and use acquired skills – that’s just a fact of life. But there is no reason that your life needs to be built on “working” at acquired skills. The first thing to do is to take time to understand what comes naturally to you, give yourself credit for your natural talents, and find ways to use them more often in all parts of your life. The Perceptual Style Assessment (PSA) measures your Perceptual Style and the Recognized Strengths Assessment (RSA) measures exactly where you are on the road to fully claiming and using your natural strengths and talents. Both assessments are available through the Get Started offer.  Click here to read more about that offer.  

We all intellectually understand the benefit of doing more of what we do best, but words fail to adequately describe the experience of living it. The difference is so significant, so enjoyable, so easy. Consciously using your natural talents is at the core of “living your passion”, “success in life”, “finding meaning”, “attracting what you want”, “inner bliss”, etc, etc. It’s what gives life joy and meaning. Don’t wait – start living your talents today! 

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