A bird was searching for a home to lay her eggs so they would be safe during the coming rainy season. In her search, she saw two trees, so she went to ask them for shelter.

When she asked the first tree, it refused to give her shelter. Disappointed, she went to the second tree.

The second tree agreed, so she built a nest and laid her eggs.

Then the rainy season arrived. The rain was so heavy that the first tree toppled over and was carried away by the flood.

The bird saw this and laughed. "This is your punishment for not offering me shelter."

The tree smiled. "I knew I wasn't going to survive this rainy season. That's why I refused you. I didn't want to risk your and your children's lives." And it drifted away.

The bird got tears in her eyes. Now that she knew the reason, she felt gratitude and respect for the tree.

How many times have we perceived the wrong scenario, or perhaps the wrong reason for a no? A rush to judgment can lead to disaster, or at the very least, regrets. It's so important to give your brain time to consider all the available facts before taking action that is difficult to reverse.

A variety of factors affect your perception: what you can actually see, hear or feel, previous experiences, opinions of others, even concerns about how you might be perceived. How you perceive a thing determines how you receive a thing. If you perceive something as negative, that's exactly how you will receive that message. In other words, your outlook often determines your outcome.

"We must look at the lens through which we see the world, as well as the world we see, and that the lens itself shapes how we interpret the world," wrote Stephen R. Covey in "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change."

That's why it matters whether you have enough good information to make a judgment about a particular situation. If you are operating on faulty premises or preconceived notions, your response may be completely unreasonable. Look at what you complain about and see if a change in perception can help you.

Therefore, it is critical that you develop your perceptive abilities so that you won't reach the wrong conclusion. The power of perception can change your life.

There are several strategies you can practice that could help you develop more precise perceptions.

Look at yourself as others might see you. Past experiences can evoke powerful memories that guide your perceptions. For example, a particular negotiation with a difficult customer has made you dread doing business with them again. But move to the other side of the table: maybe that customer has had some bad experiences with quality, delivery or price that affect their perception. A little empathy can go a long way.

Know what triggers your responses. Certain smells or songs can remind you of good times or unhappy memories. Remind yourself that you are in the present situation and try to ignore some of the factors that color your judgment.

Ask for others' opinions. We all see things through our own lenses, and different perspectives can help you shape your perceptions incorporating things you may not have noticed. You may not agree with their observations, but you will have a broader range of possibilities.

And finally, don't overlook the obvious. Quite often, the truth is right in front of you. When the facts all add up, it's reasonably safe to conclude that your perception is accurate. You can trust your intuition when you have good information. Second-guessing yourself when you have good information is an exercise in futility.

An old story tells of two cowpokes who came upon a man lying on his stomach with his ear to the ground. One cowpoke said to the other, "You see that guy? He's listening to the ground. He can hear things for miles in any direction."

"Really?" The other cowpoke got down off his horse and approached the prone man. "Is anything nearby?"

The man looked up. "One covered wagon," he said, "about 2 miles away. Two horses, one brown, one white. A man, a woman, one child and a piano in wagon."

"That's incredible! How can you know all that?"

"Simple," the man replied. "It ran over me about a half-hour ago."

Mackay's Moral: What you see may not be what you get — but maybe it is.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.