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Self-Concept & Perception in the Workplace

Updated on June 21, 2019
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Brittany is working toward her Master's in Human Services at Purdue University Global

Self-concept, or the idea of who a person thinks that they are, is a fluid, ever-changing notion that depends heavily on the environment in which a person may find their self. For instance, a person may describe them self as funny and outgoing around their friends while they see their self as quiet and observant in a class room setting.

Other peoples’ perception also plays a major role in the development of an individual self-concept. People are likely to consider the way that they are seen by others when defining their idea of self. Unfortunately, we are rarely able to truly comprehend the way others perceive us. Someone with a high self-esteem may assume they are well loved and simply hilarious when, in reality, they are highly irritating to those around them. Conversely, a person with low self-esteem will see themselves as a bother.

In the work place, this is an especially difficult situation to navigate. Coworkers see each other quite often and, while friendships are likely to form, professionalism must be maintained. Personally, my workplace is very relaxed and informal. I suppose that my self-concept is positive. My coworkers and I are rather friendly with one another and I feel well liked. The entire office is currently working remotely; we stay in contact throughout the day via a chat application. A positive influence on my self-concept is the ability to joke and talk freely with my coworkers; it creates a more personal vibe to the relationship dynamic.

New employees are quick to pick up on the dynamics of the day-to-day conversations. I suppose that a new employee may find me curt and even mean at times, but that is just my personal brand of humor. Such is the folly of perception.

Perception plays a hand in the development of self-concept and vice versa as perception is the system in which a person selects, organizes, and interprets information. A person with inadequate perception skills will likely have a skewed self-concept; a person with an inaccurate self-concept will often perceive events, actions, and words incorrectly. It is a vicious cycle.

You can improve your perception and general morale in the workplace by actively avoiding the fundamental attribution error. The fundamental attribution error is a mistake that people make by attribution a person's shortcomings to an internal factor or characteristic rather than an external factor. Let's say that your coworker is late (again). You may assume that they are unreliable and have a poor work ethic when, in reality, perhaps there was a wreck on the interstate or maybe they have to take their children to daycare and school prior to coming to work. On the other hand, maybe you are usually right in your assumptions. But, it would be beneficial to take a step back and consider external factors in your coworkers’ lives.

Empathetic listening skills go hand-in-hand with avoiding the fundamental attribution error. Everyone has a personal life and a professional life. Sometimes a coworker’s poor work ethic can be explained by a personal issue such as depression, the death of a loved one, stress, etc. People face many battles. While a colleague may be less inclined to share private information in the workplace, observation and intuition can help fill in the blanks.

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. But, with practice and a conscious effort, hopefully you will be able to improve your perception and self-concept whilst improving your coworkers’ self-concepts, work ethics, and general morale.


University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing. (2016). Communication in the Real World: An Introduction to Communication Studies. doi:


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