The Benefit of the Doubt: How Perception Can Make All the Difference

I receive a lot of interesting and entertaining emails from friends of mine. Some I delete, and others I pass along. Every now and then, I get one that contains important public service information that should be passed along to everyone. One such email I received contained the following video of the latest on CPR from the American Heart Association. It seems that people were reluctant to perform the “mouth-to-mouth resuscitation” of classic CPR, and someone discovered that the chest compressions alone—if performed vigorously—were enough to engage the lungs and the heart. How fast is vigorously? Watch the corny video for yourself and find out!

(I forwarded the email and video to my broadcast list, and I hope that you will watch it and do the same!)

The day after I sent it out, I received a response from a friend of mine, a physician who has spent many years in a hospital Emergency Room:

“A funny story about this: two years ago at one of my son’s baseball tournaments, a coach collapsed, and they called me over to the field. Now, I haven’t had any updated CPR training in about five years. I go over there and the guy has no pulse and no respiration, and some lady is doing CPR chest compressions really fast. I opened the guy’s airway etc., and the whole time the lady doing the compressions is singing ‘staying alive, staying alive, aah, aah, aah, aah, staying alive’, and I am thinking, ‘What a sick woman. This guy is dead and she’s singing Bee Gees’ songs.’ The guy made it to the hospital, got a pacemaker, and is fine. When I started telling other medical people about the sicko singing “Staying Alive” during CPR, they told me that it’s the tempo for the compressions. Thank God I didn’t open my big mouth during the CPR.”

How powerfully perception changes our view of a situation! With a little information, a shift of perception occurred that completely altered how my friend viewed the efforts of the woman involved. One piece of knowledge moved her from ‘sicko’ to courageous, well-informed helper.

In every context—whether we realize it or not—our view of an event is limited by what we perceive, and what we perceive is never the full story. Our perception is limited not only by our personal Perceptual Style, but also by the context of a situation, the history leading up to it, and the length and closeness of our involvement with it.

Too often, like my friend, we react with knowledge of only a small slice of the whole and end up drawing conclusions that are inaccurate at best and detrimental at worst. It is true that we cannot know everything about a situation before we must act, but we can give others the benefit of the doubt when their actions seem out of line. Because, as the old saying goes, “Things are not always what they seem.”

Understanding the role of perception in our lives takes conscious awareness and effort, but that effort offers rewards in the form of strong relationships, trust, and clear communication. Without it, we risk charging into a situation uninformed and ill-prepared. So much in our lives, loves, and businesses rests on accurate perception of a situation and our ability to communicate with others—being too quick to judge the actions of others can very quickly backfire.

Of course, understanding the role that perceptual differences play won’t always make our interactions with others “smooth sailing.” Some differences are simply too large to overcome. But in the vast majority of cases, a simple twist in perception—often due to more complete information—will allow you to see the world from another person’s point of view, and change the way you view their actions.

Gary Jordan, Ph.D., has over 27 years of experience in clinical psychology, behavioral assessment, individual development, and coaching. He earned his doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology – Berkeley.  He is co-creator of Perceptual Style Theory, a revolutionary psychological assessment system that teaches people how to unleash their deepest potentials for success. He’s a partner at Vega Behavioral Consulting, Ltd., a consulting firm that specializes in helping people discover their true skills and talents.  For free information on how to succeed as an entrepreneur or coach, create a thriving business and build your bottom line doing more of what you love, visit

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