Perception filters

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Perception is the process in which a person interprets organizes and maintains information from their environment. The theory of perception filtering can be derived from Shannon and Weaver Model for Communication as a form of information entropy that is created during the coding and decoding of a message from the deliverer to the recipient. Perception filtering is in this process the subconscious selection on a subset out of a large number of present stimuli at any time. [1] This focus is individual and determined by biological, cultural and language prerequisites as well as values and thinking styles. [2] The process is necessary since the cognitive and physical capacity of individuals to process and respond to a large number of information is limited. [1] Because of this filtering, persons exposed to the same set of information can end up with a different perception and draw other conclusions. This can also lead to different attributions made by managers and workers explaining workplace behaviour and misunderstandings in project management. [3] Acknowledging the existence of perceptional filters and actively addressing them can be an important communication skill for managers addressing messages and achieving the intended behaviour. The foundation for this is a previous engagement with the interlocutor and individual communication in order to selectively address or circumvent the filters. This approach is particularly suitable in situations where the reception of the message is of particular importance, such as in change management or feedback.


What is Perception

Individuals in today's organizations are exposed to a growing amount of different stimuli within a day. This can be the environmental stimuli, E-Mails, calls, texts messages, direct conversations, social media or podcasts from the CEO to all employees. The goal of organizational communication is to influence the receptor's perception and to adapt, confirm or change behaviour according to the sender's intention.[4] But being exposed to all of these stimuli does not mean that they are perceived. The terminology of perception can be found in philosophy, psychology, sociology and biology. [5] but has its roots in cognitive theory. [6] In the cognitive theory, perception is described as a "generalized cognitive framework that give form and meaning to experience, and contain general knowledge to a domain.” [7] In an organizational context, this can be described as a dynamic psychological process responsible for attending, organizing and interpreting sensory data. [8] This process of trying to fit new information into existing schemas frames or mental models is following a standardized procedure. The first one is scanning for clues to connect information in the environment to existing frames. This can be based on characteristics, experiences or tacit knowledge. Secondly, this leads to an interpretation of the meaning of the information. Based on the scanning and subsequent interpretation of the messages the third step is a response or action.[4] The influence of perception on decision making is determined by two perspectives. On one hand, the heuristics and biases contain emotions as a primary driver in a fast, automatic process and on the other hand the cognitive process which is slow and logical. [4] Perception filters are influencing each phase of this process and this is happening in a heuristical, fast and autonomous way. It is not logical or actively influenceable by the person.

Types of filters

Figure 1: Filters Model Own illustration following [2]

The reception of stimuli is influenced by filters, whose formation is based on our environment and our experiences. These filters are under permanent change and are further developed by ambient influences. It should be noted that the perception of these experiences is also is affected by perceptual filters. They can be categorized into four main groups.

  • Biological/ Genetic

This filter innate comprehension or intelligence but is also be described in some literature as thinking styles. The perception of a message can for example vary depending on if you are an analytical or a creative thinker.

  • Language/ Culture

Language can not only be a communication barrier but also a filter. People from different cultural backgrounds can differ broadly on terms of semantics, thus can have a decisive influence on the perception of a message. Being in a specific cultural environment for a long time can also cause the effect of conditioned behaviour on certain stimuli.

  • Believes/ Values

Our main beliefs and values are decisive in the process of receiving a message. They are building a framework against that new stimuli are compared. A disagreement of part of the message with certain values can lead to a rejection of the whole content.

  • Feelings/ Emotions

Feelings and emotions are one main filter influencing business behaviour and the reception of messages. A bad week can make a person more responsive to confrontation and critical healthcare situations of belongings can influence the attitude towards the importance of business decisions. Also, the emotions building a relationship to the sender of the message can form important perceptional filters.[2]

The Filters model

The filters model is the theory describing the outcome of human behaviour as a combination of related filters. According to the theory, it is not possible to select certain filters so that the recorded message is always influenced to a different extent by all the filters. They can be simplified sorted into positive and negative filters and the stronger these filters are the higher is the conflict potential. The publication of a new IT-System from the company x for example can address a positive filter related to the natural enthusiasm for changes with the negative filter concerning bad experiences with the company. Additionally, the model assumes that also all other filters like the personal background can not be ignored. The final reception of the message and the following actions that an individual takes are then dependent on the weighting of the different filters at the time of receipt of the message.[2]

The Perception Filtering Process

People are learning and developing references and frameworks in every moment, building up their own reality. This also applies in a business surrounding where a uniform environment creates a common room for perception but it is additionally influenced by predispositions, emotions, values, experiences and culture. All of these factors can act as filters influencing perceptions of messages and therefore the behaviour in each situation so they have to be recognized as well in business communication. Personal filters work like physical filters. Where small holes in plates allow light with a specific wavelength to pass so personal filters only allow certain parts of a message to pass to the receptor to build the final perception. [2]

Figure 2: Filters in the process of perception [9]

The filters are present in each of the phases of attention, organization, interpretation and retention that are building the final perception.[3] Attention is the process of becoming aware and noticing stimuli. The Perception filters are influencing which stimuli we are more attentive to than others and limiting the number of impressions that are going to the next phase: Organization. Here the remaining information are incorporated into the existing knowledge. As a cause of perceptional filters knowledge that is consistent with our current knowledge is more likely to be incorporated. Thereafter a meaning is attached to the processe's information. This Interpretation is influenced by our preferences, beliefs and values. Finally, parts of the information are filed away to be remembered. This process is called retention and here, too, perception filters play a role in selecting which information we can access in the future. In this whole process, the receptor will compare the information with an existing personal context in a specific area. If there is no match the message is compared to the other personal areas. When there is a match the message is translated within the receptors framework whereby parts of the message sometimes being omitted. This is a subconscious process that is driven by multiple perceptions and can lead to different perceptions of the same message.

The message "The top manager is coming to visit us next week." can be interpreted in different ways.[3] From one person as "Next week is pretty soon and I need to get my work done until then so I can present it" In this example, the person filters the time period and the hierarchical information as the main elements out of the and interpreted it in the company framework as a pressure to deliver results. Another employee can interpret the same message as "The head office must have recognized the sales have gone up and wants to congratulate us" here the personal framework of positive work-related experience over the last weeks are linked to the massage and form a positive perception. A third person can have the perception driven by a personal filter and the wish to develop themselves: "The manager is a well-educated person he might us for sure some practical tips how to improve our work"

All of these frameworks against stimuli are measured are built up as well on an individual as on a collective level. So to obtain the desired reaction to a message, it has to be adapted to the person as well as to the environment of the entire collective.

Implications of Perception Filtering

Since perception filters are playing a role in each phase of the perception process implications and problems occur in each of the different phases.

Selective perception

In the attention phase, selective perception is described as a tendency to notice preferable information and stimuli that are related to our current values beliefs and screening out nonconforming. A manager who has a high opinion of an employee will forget or perceive poor performance more quickly than he would with an employee of whom he has a negative overall image. Disregarding minor parts of information can be beneficial because the perception capacity is limited. But this only applies if the basic perception is accurate. If important information is omitted and an incomplete picture is created, selective perception can become a problem. [10]

Blocking by filters

When a long message is delivered, filters can cause parts of the message to be blocked. If a message includes emotional and business related parts, the several parts are referred to the personal framework and can be disregarded as being not relevant. [2]

Relative Interpretation

It is known that the acknowledgment of a message is a personal interpretation of the message. A simple example is the relative interpretation of 3 letter abbreviations. For a person out of the communication industry, ATM is more likely a communication method and for a banking person, a bank automate whereby ATM can also simply mean at the moment. The differences in perceptions become bigger the more paraphrasing are used and the more feelings are involved.[2]

Translation by filters

Filters can lead to an individual translation of a message. For example, the designation; you do it like a sales manager depends on the recipient's attitude towards the sales team and their previous experience. This message can be translated as positive or negative and is related to the values created by the experiences. But also the cultural attitude towards hierarchical behaviour can influence the receipting of a manager's message. [2]


This phenomenon can be linked to the HALO effect and describes our tendency to fill in gaps following our perception filters after we received initial information about a process, company or person. This can have big effects on organizations once these filters are negative. A message of a budget cut by 20% can be interpreted that there is an incoming cut in employee costs with wage reduction or dismissal by filling the gaps of the message. This, as an example, can lead to reduced working motivation.[3]

How to react as a Project Manager

Perception filtering can influence the project outcome and plays a part in different aspects within the management of portfolios, programs and projects.[11] In Risk Management, for example, the observable behaviour can prior be influenced by the disposition towards uncertainty. That is adopted explicit or implicit by individuals and groups and influences as biological perception filter the reception of messages related to risk. [12] Acknowledging that each perception and also their own are influenced by filters is an important skill set for managers to make reasoned decisions. The decision-making in project management is thereby characterized by dynamic complexity. This is determined by the underlying of the problem itself and the "behavioral complexity" of group effects. [13] It is necessary for a project manager to manage the interactions between stakeholders and the communications effectively to ensure successful cooperation towards project outcomes and the realization of benefits. The three main pillars of communication management are Planning communication, distributing communication and monitoring the impact of communication to increase the understanding among various stakeholders, providing accurate unbiased Information and minimize the risk. [14] The importance of perception filtering increases with the decisiveness of the received messages. In feedback situations, the consideration of personal filters, for example, is important and is usually adjusted for each individual based on tacit knowledge about the person. Another important field is change management where "Change is as much about peoples expectations and perceptions as it is about managing facts". [15] Multiple actions like training, coaching, mentoring, stakeholder engagement and targeted communication can be used to lower negative perception filters.[16] A first step to achieve this is to choose the right communication medium to overcome more filters. Oral communication is better suited for complex and emotionally laden topics because it gives the opportunity to see the end results of the filtering process. Written communication should more be used for straightforward messages and information delivery. Find a common ground to communicate on can thereby help to decrease the influences of the filters. Finding a field of shared experiences with multiple disciplines involved insures the knowledge of the filter in these areas and is the basis for a more similar perception. To create knowledge about these common filters, open corporate culture with a no shame no blame approach is beneficial. [4] The need for planning communication to match with the stakeholder's needs and expectations includes effective measures and feedback mechanisms and builds the baseline for effective stakeholder management. Besides the planning and distribution of information, monitoring the impact of the communications is the responsibility of the project manager. Taking the existence of perceptual filters during these processes into account is important to monitor and guide Stakeholder's perception, support and interest for the project or program. This increase the understanding of possible different reception of information and resolves communication issues to minimize the risk.[14] [16]

Mind dancing

By managing the perception filters actively a project manager is able to influence the stakeholder's expectations. This "mind dancing" approach creates the opportunity to have satisfied customers although the project scope is not completely fulfilled. As a project is not only determined by the results but more by the customer's satisfaction the overall success can be increased. The first step is recognizing the existence of perception and filters in projects and teams. With this acknowledgment and ability to use these filters, strong project teams and stakeholder connections can be formed. Negative filters can be compensated with increasing positives for example by finding a personal connection. The most common example is to find a shared interest. Having something in common is a starting point of building trust and therefore is lowering negative filters towards the person. Exploring the interest of the other besides the project-work is lowering the walls and opens the filters one after the other. With this increased knowledge it is possible on to understand the other's personal project interests better and gain a better foundation to make decisions. [2] Communication can now be directed to meet more positive perceptual filters and avoid messages that trigger negative perceptions. The British standard for management concludes that all of the stakeholder's perceptions of requirements, benefits and all their interests needs to be considered as they can influence the project's success.[16]


Being aware of the existence of perception filters is an advantage for managers. In this way, certain reactions can be tracked or individual communications can be adapted. However, the recommended actions cannot be applied to every communication. They have their limitations in formal communication with multiple stakeholders and require a certain amount of connections and knowledge about the receiver of the message. In addition, many influences affect the perception of a message in any situation and the emotional filter is in most situations difficult to suspect, so it is not possible for the project manager to include all of these impacts in the communication. Addressing various departments and people and communicating differently is already practiced by most people and managers subconsciously. Nevertheless, perception filters can be a helpful tool to rethink existing communication structures and to conduct a baseline study of why messages are not being perceived in the right way.


The PMI, British and ISO standards of project, program and portfolio management mention perception as a factor influencing the success of a project, especially with regard to stakeholder management. The role of perception filters is not explicitly addressed, so that further material is necessary in order to present this parameter in a comprehensive manner. In this article, reference was made to the following works, in which further information can be found.

  • Belling, B. & Mangalaars, F. A. H. (2004). How filters and perceptions influence your thinking, behavioral and success in project management: "mind dancing" as a way to success and leadership

This paper published by the project management institute is focussing on how perception filters influence sucess in project management. There are weaknesses in describing the excact phenomenon and gaps the difference between filters. The focus is primarily on the implications this psychological phenomenon has for project management and describes further the mind dancing approach, that can be used from project managers to use the perception filters for their own advantage. Multiple examples for perceptional filters can be found additionally that are not are underexamined in this article.

  • H.M.F. Marynissen (2011) The Relationship between Organisational Communication and Perception, Acta Chirurgica Belgica, 111:4, 193-199

The Meta study of Marynissen deals with perception in a corporate context and describes different approaches of authors over the years to qualify the process from receiving a message to taking action. This literature only describes the topic of perception filters without explicitly naming it, which makes it a basic source to be considered.

  • Williams, C. (2017). MGMT7. Cengage Learning

Williams book about the principles of management acknowledges the importance of communication for successful project management. It explains the role perception plays in communication and following communication problems and establishes the repeatedly-cited model of filters in the process of perception.


  1. 1.0 1.1 American Psychological Association 2022; URL:
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Belling, B. & Mangalaars, F. A. H. (2004). How filters and perceptions influence your thinking, behavioral and success in project management: "mind dancing" as a way to success and leadership. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2004—EMEA, Prague, Czech Republic. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Williams, C. (2017). MGMT7. Cengage Learning
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 H.M.F. Marynissen (2011) The Relationship between Organisational Communication and Perception, Acta Chirurgica Belgica, 111:4, 193-199
  5. MEZIAS J. M., Starbuck W. H. Studying the accuracy of managers’ perceptions : A research odyssey. British Journal of Management, 2003a, 14 : 3-17
  6. Scott J., Marshall g. Oxford dictionary of sociology. oxford university press, 2005, 3rd ed.
  7. Labianca G., Gray B., Brass D. J. A grounded model of organizational schema change during empowerment. Organization Science, 2000, 11 : 235-257, Page 237
  8. Buchanan D. A., Huczynski A. A. Organizational behaviour. pearson Education Limited, England, 2010, 7th ed.
  9. Williams, C. (2017). MGMT7. Cengage Learning. Page 294
  10. Griffin, R. W. (2016). Fundamentals of Management Eight Edition. Canada: Cengage Learning
  11. Project Management: A guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK guide), 7th Edition (2021)
  12. PMI Standard for Risk Management (2019)
  13. Senge, P., Kleiner, A., Roberts, C., Ross, R., Roth, G., Smith, B., & Guman, E. C. (1999). The dance of change: The challenges to sustaining momentum in learning organizations
  14. 14.0 14.1 ISO 21502:2020 Project, programme and portfolio management — Guidance on project management; Chapter 7.1.3
  15. Project Management: "Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2" 6th Edition (2017), Page: 362
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Project Management: "Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2" 6th Edition (2017)
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