workplace mediator brisbane conflictDo you remember the media sensation about “the dress“? Was it white and gold or blue and black? What started out as a conversation among family and friends on Facebook went viral and people across the planet were divided by the colours they could see.

Professionals provided many reasons why “the dress” was perceived to be different in colour.

I was personally more interested in how people responded when others couldn’t see what they did and they couldn’t influence their family or friends to see their view.

Here’s how your workplace can benefit from “the dress” experience while minimising the risk of conflict occurring.

Exploring people’s perceptions at work

Presenting an optical illusion like “the dress” in a team meeting and asking people to share what they see is simple, safe and fun.

Through this activity, your team members will come to understand how it’s possible for two (or more) people to be looking at the same picture and see different things.

As most people will be aware of “the dress”, find another example on the internet. Search for “old lady young lady” or “optical illusions” and many options will appear. (Warning: you may become “slightly” obsessed looking through the examples to test yourself as I was while researching this post.)

How to facilitate a session on Perceptions 

In this example, I’ll use the young lady/old lady photo.

  1. Using these pictures, divide your team into two groups and present each group with the first or third photo.
  2. Invite them to study the photo for 30 seconds without talking and then to place the photo on the table.
  3. Bring the groups back together and present the team with the middle photo and ask them to identify what they see.

Debate will start when people call out “young woman”, “old lady”. Observe how people try to convince others they are right and the other is wrong.

Who in the room is willing to see from someone else’s perspective? And who isn’t?

Allow the debate to take about five minutes to give everyone in the group time to be able to see both women.

Relating this optical illusion to workplace conflict

4. Follow the debate with this conversation starter, “You have looked at one photo and can see two different things. Why do you think this happened?”.
5. Continue by asking, “What benefit did you gain by being shown a different woman in the final picture?
6. Discuss how you had influenced the team by giving them one photo or the other. Then ask, “What influences do you bring to work which contribute to how you see things differently from your colleagues?”.

People will start to realise they may have been primed to look for something by the previous “experience” (photo) they had in their groups. Listen for responses which talk about how people can look at the same picture or situation and see different things and both are correct. From this conversation, team members will introduce ideas such as: previous work experience, cultural differences, their training or job, language differences, age differences, personal preferences.

This segues neatly into…

7. .. discussing how people’s perceptions can lead to conflict.

From this activity, the team experienced how one picture can represent different things to different people and all were correct. So too when we are working on the same problem at work each person sees:

  • different aspects to focus on or
  • different ways to approach the problem or
  • different ideas on what the problem is because they bring to work different influences.

It doesn’t mean they’re wrong. It means their perception is different as they are looking at the problem through their own set of lenses. Lenses which have been influenced by their personal and professional experiences.

When people are conscious of their perceptions, it removes an element which can lead to unproductive conflict – the I’m right, you’re wrong “game”.

This activity can be completed in 30 minutes and the lessons people take away can last a lifetime. Isn’t 30 minutes a great investment to prevent unnecessary conflict at work?

Oh, the dress which led to the frenzy? Blue and black isn’t it?

Andrea (166 Posts)

Andrea Doyle MHRM, Accredited Mediator – NMAS
Workplace Mediator, Conflict Manager
Author, Presenter

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