OK, sometimes perception IS projection

The way we make sense of the world is not just a matter of passively filtering incoming information. We have expectations of how we expect particular situations and other people to be, and we project those expectations onto our perception of the world around us. They form part of our filters, playing up information that conforms to those expectations and downgrading or ignoring information that contradicts them.

Psychologists talk about the ‘halo effect’ – where if we like one thing about a person, it affects our perception of their other qualities. People who are good looking tend to be rated higher in job interviews, for example. This works in the world of branding too. When the iPod took off, sales of Apple laptops and personal computers increased too, because some of the iPod’s coolness rubbed off on how we saw Apple’s other products.

So it’s a safe bet that some of what you perceive is actually projection, from how you expect the world to be. You’ll sometimes come across the phrase ‘Perception is Projection’ in NLP – in fact some people talk about it as if it was a basic NLP presupposition. Personally, I think that’s too sweeping a generalisation. Some of your perception is projection, but some of it is really happening.

Where projection really does have an impact is in interpersonal relations – management, sales, coaching, teaching, training – anywhere that you are dealing with other people. The reason that projection is so important here is that, as you know, how you feel and how you act are a response to how you perceive the world. And other people’s response to you is based largely on their perception of your behaviour.

Sometimes perception really is projection
One case where ‘perception is projection’ is pretty much true in the business world is telephone sales. Most people absolutely hate the idea of cold calling, and will go some way to avoid having to do it, because they don’t like the feeling of being rejected. This can happen even when the person’s job is to cold call people, although they tend not to last long if they feel that way about it.

So if someone is in the position of having to do cold calling, and their expectation is that everyone they call is going to tell them to get lost, that they are useless at selling, and they won’t make any sales or get any appointments, their expectation will rapidly be proved right. The way they feel will come across in the call, the prospects will sense the desperation, and no-one will want to talk to them. In that kind of vicious circle, the phone can start to feel like the enemy, and people will send emails, write reports, or do pretty much anything else to avoid picking up the phone.

Or, if the economy is going through a sticky patch, and sales people believe that “there’s no business out there”, again that will be a self-fulfilling prophesy. In these situations changing our expectations is vital, which is why sales people use reframes like “every no gets me closer to a yes” or “every other sales person is giving up in this climate, which means there’s more business for me”.

Years ago I had to do some cold calling when I was running the training arm of a branding agency. It’s safe to say that I wasn’t a natural – cold calling was some way outside my comfort zone, and I hated it – I was expecting rejection every time, and sure enough I got it. With no experience of telephone sales, I had no reference experiences of success – so I literally “couldn’t see myself doing that”.

Then, I just happened to call a prospect who needed what we were offering, and agreed to a meeting. With that one success, my whole world changed. Now, I had to believe it was possible to get appointments successfully – because I’d just done it. My state changed, because now I was expecting success. It became possible for me to get more appointments. Even when a prospect said no, that was just one of the no’s that would get me closer to a yes.


  • What are you projecting out onto the world that’s getting in the way of your success?
  • What would you want to project instead?
  • How can you start gathering experiences and successes, however small, that will help you to project positive expectations?
  • If you are managing a team (or teaching a class, or coaching clients), how will you start arranging for the successful experiences that will help people to have positive expectations?
  • What credible reframes can you devise that will help people to see things in a more success-friendly way?

© 2011 – 2021, Andy Smith. All rights reserved.

1 comment

  1. INk toners

    Nice informational post. amazed to read your explanation and how easily you changed our mind. thumbs up for the post.
    hope that you will keep on writing such posts.

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