Perception filters in project management

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Written by Julia Fritzdorf




What are perception filters?

Figure 1. An overview of perception filters and its' influences.

Perception filtering is the processing of new information in our brain, how it will be interpreted is individual and is affected by prior knowledge, cultural aspects, personality, prejudices, former experiences and much more. Perception is the way the receiver intercepts information, decodes it, and acts thereafter. The perception and actions will be different from person to person based on their individual perception filters, see figure 1. [1] Moreover, perception filters are affected by current personal position as well, such as healthcare or family situations. They can also be affected by historical or previous events in life, such as traumatic experiences, that can shape how you react in a similar, current situation. These personal circumstances will influence your professional role as well as when making decisions in general in life. [2] Communication is important in most fields of work and in the everyday life. It is something that is taken for granted for most, but can be interpreted and received differently from person to person. Language, words and expressions reach individuals on different levels due to different processes in the brain. This human phenomena is called a perception filter. There are two aspects that are important to consider within perception and understanding, first is how one perceives information and actions, and secondly, how one converts information into action.[3]

Research led to the conclusion that neurological framework and environmental experiences might be the reason to this. The perception filter functions in our consciousness, it is not physically a part of the brain, however it affects our learning. If for example, an individual scans through a random series of book titles most of them will go unnoticed and be forgotten within a short period of time. This is due to the lack of connection to prior knowledge in the mind, and when something catches one's interest it is often as a result of that it connects with something that is already stored in the long term memory. This is developed by the perception filter, and the information can be added to the long term storage.[4] The amount of information that each person is exposed to each day is enormous, the perception filter is then an aid to filter out some of what might be unnecessary. This is because of that the brain can not absorb all the information that is presented to it. Studies have also shown that genetics can play a large role in perception of emotions, different genetic profiles are affected differently by social interactions.[5] As a project manager it is of great importance to take the aspect of perception filters within coworkers into account. This is due to the considerable amount of communication this line of work demands, communication with coworkers, stakeholders and team members, et cetera. These different roles will have different views and visions for the project, with various backgrounds and standpoints to the project. It is therefore crucial that the project manager manages to keep them satisfied in order to proceed with the work and succeed with its' own goals and reach the expectations from stakeholders.[2]

The influence of perception filters

The impacts on learning

Figure 2. A model of the relation between perception filters, information impressions and the memory.

The brain is a complicated part of our body, it is thinking and choosing not to think about millions of visions each day. For example, walking down a street, one is meeting hundreds of faces in the time span of a couple of minutes, but still, during these minutes you will only have noticed and remembered a few of these faces or just the one you were looking for to meet. Another possible situation is when hundreds and hundreds of noises go unnoticed each day, but the whistle from a train at night outside your new apartment waking you, will disturb you. Some time later this noise won’t bother you, the mind learns to adjust and the sound goes unnoticed thanks to the perception filter. This is one part of the perception filter, but it operates in all parts of our consciousness, and also for our learning. When teaching, the perception filters in the students affect how much of the given information that is absorbed and taken in, and this should be taken in account for.

There are models explaining this phenomena, for example the Bloom’s taxonomy that describes the cognitive ability in the form of a hierarchy, the Perry model that provides college students’ ethical and intellectual development, or sectioning of different personality types in order to understand peoples’ interactions. This is something foreign to traditional textual educational models.

The perception filter is not a physical part of the brain, it is an idea. When scanning through book titles and summaries, the eyes scan through many of them and only to stop at some of them to read further. This depends on whether something in the title or outlook was caught in our perception filter, see figure 2. The one that catch our eye will often have a link or connection to something our memory has prior knowledge of. The book went through the perception filter and can now be processed and added to the long term memory. This is important function in our busy life, when one doesn’t have the capacity or time to read all the titles on the shelf. However, during an education, some subjects and information will have great difficulty slipping through the perception filter, and this is something teachers need to account for. It can be difficult to acquire the information from the speaker in the long term memory if it is not presented in the right way, the speaker needs to adjust the tone, choice of words et cetera after its’ audience. [4]

The impacts on project management

The perception filter works in a way that only small parts of all of the information that the brain is exposed to, is filtered through and reflected upon, this depends on the receptors’ earlier references. The message that is communicated to the receptor will be compared to similar, already experienced situations, and when one is found it will operate as the framework for the current situation. This filter will form the experience of the new information and how it is interpreted, for example, if the receptor interprets a message as a compliment or an insult, which is based on how they relate to the matter. Furthermore the filters can work as blockings, if during a meeting, a lot of information is being communicated the listeners' filters can lead to that only parts of the message are being received. What is relevant for one coworker, and therefore filtered through, and then remembered can easily be completely different for the other colleague. What can be different is with what kind of perspective one works from, if it is personal or purely business, this will affect ones' selection of captured information. The desired team member for a project manager should therefore be an individual that holds an even combination of both emotional and business knowledge to avoid information being blocked away and to receive a proportional part of the message.

A project manager has to live up to the expectations to the coworkers and the team working on the project, on the same time as delivering information and achievements to higher standing stakeholders. For this to be possible, it requires a mature project manager that can deliver valuable projects as well as satisfaction from the customers. The concept "mind dancing across perceptional filters" is introduced as a way of achievement in this context. The concept implies that managing with perception filters in consideration can create satisfaction within the customers even when a project is not completed as it was intended or when the scope is not fulfilled. As a project manager is maturing over time it is valuable to first have an empathic personality and then to realize that even your own perception of the world is based on your perception filters. The next step is to detect the other persons' conceivable perception filters in order to bring further value to the team. [2]

The impact of words

Communication and the understanding of words and information can be divided into two segments; perception and understanding as well as action. The first part involves how one understands and perceives information and the latter about how one uses the perceived information and transforms it into action. How this occurs is, as earlier mentioned, undoubtedly personal. When the brain receives a word, the word itself activates the same part of the brain that in fact physically performs the action. Different kinds of words, such as concrete or abstract words, are ingested differently by the brain, some words can be interpreted easily and some tends to be able to be interpreted in many ways. Examples of concrete words are: play, cat, walk, meanwhile abstract words are harder for the brain to decode, examples of this are: analyzing, desire or emotion. Abstract words are more complex and requires the brain to use multiple parts of it to decipher and they also need a context. This will connect to earlier experiences and turn on the perception filters. The patterns of one as a listener or speaker is learned early in life and outmost dependent on experiences. Some can be direct speakers and some more soft, the different types can therefore misunderstand the other as for example being rude without the intention. This leads to the conclusion that it is meaningful to understand the width of how different and individual perception of words is. To better understand how clients, stakeholders or team members will interpret words and information, you have to understand the dynamic, differences and backgrounds between them. [3]

Application of perception filters

Project managers

Being a project manager demands a certain ability to understand and read the emotions and thoughts of coworkers, among the knowledge to use the tools and skills of project management. It is of great importance that a project manager accepts the existence of perception filters and has the ability to use the power of this concept, this is the base of interpreted emotions and thoughts. Unintentionally, ones’ perception filters will lay as a foundation on how the world is apprehended, and in work-related matters, mostly, the underlying personal experiences will affect the learning and knowledge of the employees. The task that the project manager has is to determine what perception filters, based on the team members background, culture etc, the team members possess and how to approach them.

Maturing as a project manager consists of knowledge in multiple work areas, firstly the task solving and competence skills, secondly the soft skills, such as professional behavior and emotional coaching of team and customers. As the soft skills have become more and more crucial for the profession, it is important to apply the awareness of filters and perception, especially in projects that handle large organizational changes. It is important that a project leader that wants to be a part of the development of today, works on these abilities.

A project managers' behavior is not something that can be taught as a concept, it is varying from project to project and from situation to situation. Therefore, it is crucial, as a project manager to have the ability to decode a situation and adapt to the person in question. To best approach a difficult question as a project manager, is not exclusively to react in the most suitable way according to the matter or issue itself and solving it in a successful way, but it is also about reading the person on the other side of the table and figuring what their expectations of you are. In this way the project manager can deliver a higher quality of service on more levels than solely reaching the determined goals. [2]

Employees and team members

In order to meet the needs of employees or group members it is important for the leader to take certain actions. There are different situational leadership models that can be applied for this purpose. These can be strategies on how to present scenarios or optimize the leaders’ approach towards processes and work efforts of the team. A project is dependent on the functioning of communication in the team, communication models are developed so that the receiver of information will experience it in an effective way, and that it influences him or her. The sender must therefore differentiate its’ communication form based on stakeholder needs, cultural styles and personalities. There are studies showing that when an idea is transmitted it is influenced by the sender’s role which causes different perceptions. It can be a matter of the sender’s competence, language, stereotypes, knowledge, thinking patterns and so on. Simultaneously, the individual perception is also reliant on the character traits that the receiver holds.

Moreover, other methods also point out that the ability to perceive and take in information is also dependent on one's capacity to keep the focus, the use of natural language, to manage several information cues at once among other characteristics. Another concept is the richness of communication, which describes how effectively and how rapidly the shared information is learned by the receiver. The richness of communication can also be affected by how the information is being transmitted physically, whether it is over the phone or face to face, in more complex matters of conveyed information the latter option is preferred. (page 153-157) [6]


In addition, projects are not solely about the teams and the leaders, a great part of it is the work and communication with the stakeholders, everything from a few of them in certain cases to millions in others. This is also a reason why the way of communicating is of the utmost degree important, a project will not succeed with unsatisfied stakeholders that hinders the project. Firstly the stakeholders of a project need to be determined, secondly the project team and manager need to understand the stakeholders’ perspective, their different values and feelings in the situation. In order to be able to communicate in a way that is perceived well by the receiver, the stakeholders, to communicate in a way that will reach and influence them in the right direction. The communication must integrate with the knowledge and needs of the stakeholders in order to go through the perception filters. (page 8-13) [6]

However, when working in an industry it is important to learn the jargong of that business, the same goes for project management. Learning the work environment in a group and the jargong in that field is one way to conquer some of the social barriers that often occur. Understanding about perception filters based on hierarchical patterns and cultural differences between colleagues is as a project manager meaningful to create a professional atmosphere. A persons' personal matters and hierarchical position will unconsciously affect ones professional behavior. [2]

Management in change

Managing a project in change can create great resistance within a team, although there are tools to counteract this barrier and neutralize the situation. As a project manager in a situation like this, it is crucial to find one or multiple members that can work as ambassadors for the change, members that are open to the transformation. To find these ambassadors is through detecting perception filters and catching the ones that are finding the changes positive and that are personally driven by them. This force can then balance out the resistance by the ones that are perceiving the adjustments negatively. The perception of positivity by changes is closely linked to having a shared interest in the matter, and finding these will benefit and create a strong team. [2]

Filter emotion perception - latest research

Multiple cognitive neuroscience studies have been made on our emotion perception, it is a development from social cognitive processes in our brains and physiological aspects. Genetic studies have found that the brain responding to perception of emotions is affected by genetic variants in our bodies. It is a difficult area of study, but progress has recently been made. [5]


In conclusion, perception filter is a concept that involves the perception and processing of new information in our mind. This is something exceedingly personal which is shaped upon life experiences, prior knowledge, prejudices, cultural background, personality, among other factors. This means that when used in the right way, acting on perception filters can be an extremely powerful tool in the connection and relations between people. This can be applied by, for example, project managers in order to maximize communication, efficiency and satisfaction from different stakeholders, which is a crucial part of their everyday work. Project managers are supervising and communicating with team members and colleagues, delivering achievements to stakeholders and working with projects in change. In all of these parts, it is essential and favorable if the communication is as smooth and clear from misunderstandings as possible. This will increase satisfaction from all involved parties and enhance the accomplishments from the project managers, however, this also demands a mature and conscious manager. Continuous research is being made in the area and further investigation will lead to higher knowledge and more precise application of this mind tool. Lastly, being aware and mindful of people and adapting to their perception filters will imply higher value and enhanced communication between people, colleagues and improve relations.


  1. Jackson, R.L., Hogg, M.A. (n.d.) Perceptual filtering, Sage Reference.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Belling, B. Mangalaars, F.A.H. (2004). How filters and perceptions influence your thinking, behavior and success in project management. Project Management Institute.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Svendsen Aylott, A.M. (2020) Effective communication: filters and perception. BMJ Publishing Group. 42(10). 586-588.
  4. 4.0 4.1 White, H. B. (2012). Visualizing the perception filter and breaching it with active-learning strategies. Wiley-Blackwell. 40(2). 138-139.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Taschereau-Dumouchel, V., Hétu, S., Chagnon, Y. C., Jackson, P. L. (2015). Measuring how genetic and epigenetic variants can filter emotion perception. PHILADELPHIA: Copyright Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. 25(5). 216-222.
  6. 6.0 6.1 PMBOK GUIDE. (2021). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge and The Standard for Project Management page. 7th edn. Project Management Institute, Inc.
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