Perceptual Barriers

Anything that inhibits or prevents us from making accurate perceptions is called a perceptual barrier or a perceptual error. Perceptual errors often result from the preconceived ideas perceivers hold about people and situations. Five of the most common perceptual barriers are selective perceptions, stereotypes, halo effect, projections, and expectations.

Selective Perception

In the organizational context, selective perception means paying attention to information that supports your ideas and ignoring the rest. For instance, if you dislike some teachers, you would tend to focus on their negative personality characteristics and ignore any positive qualities that would be inconsistent with your opinion of them. Another type of selective perception is perceptual defense. This is the tendency for people to protect themselves from ideas, objects, or situations that are threatening. For instance, you may ignore a person who has ideas that threaten your deeply held convictions.


A stereotype is an oversimplified mental picture that is associated with a particular group (e.g., women are emotional, Scots are thrifty, and fat people are jolly). Stereotypes persist because people who hold them tend to practice selective perception. For example, a foreperson who believes that young people are lazy may notice that some of the younger workers are taking extra breaks, but fail to perceive that older workers are doing the same. Positive stereotypes can be as misleading as negative ones. For instance, regardless of the reality, some of us tend to stereotype attractive people as warm, kind, sensitive, and honest.

Halo Effect

The halo effect1 occurs in organizations when managers provide overly favourable evaluations of employees based on their observations of isolated successes. A typical halo error made by managers is to assume that a person with a good attendance record is responsible in all areas of performance. Another is being influenced by the previous year's performance evaluations.


Projection is the tendency to attribute one's own beliefs, feelings, tendencies, motives, or needs to other people. For instance, a manager who enjoys taking on new responsibilities may project this tendency onto employees by assigning them extra job duties without first consulting them. Managers can avoid the negative consequences of projection by cultivating empathy and developing their listening skills.


An expectation is the tendency to find in a situation or a person what one expects to find. Our expectations have a big impact on how we perceive the world around us. For instance, when we ask people how they are doing, we expect them to answer, "Fine, thank you." If their response is accompanied by negative body language, we may choose to ignore the nonverbal information because it is not consistent with our expectations.