What We Really Learn By Watching Others

“There’s no reason to be surprised by people’s behavior unless you’ve failed to observe it” @mikemyatt

Earlier I posted about the validity of and the “why” of the time-honored practice of observing, (Fundamental Principle 8) – of learning by watching people’s behavior and how they engage with others.  It’s time to identify the “what” behind what we observe.

The key is to understand that behaviors are driven by two major components, closely aligned but with subtle differences:

  • Principles – oftentimes unwritten rules that, for a person or within a culture, guide decision-making, especially in conflicting situations; and
  • Values – sets of beliefs about those things to which worth is attached.  We would generally find agreement that we value things like love, truth, honesty, liberty, and freedom.  What is included under the category of “values” and how they are prioritized can vary among cultures and sub-cultures.

Together these two concepts form the foundation for a person’s character.  It is this character that drives the behaviors that are observed.

If one’s character, composed of values and principles, guides and constrains behaviors in various situations (we behave in ways that are consistent with our values and principles), simply shown as:

Character = Values & Principles > (lead to) > Behaviors,

then by observing behaviors over time a better sense of the true values and principles underlying them can be deduced, and by working backwards:

Behaviors < (came from) < Values & Principles = Character

Which brings us back to Professed and Practiced Behaviors.  We can and do convince ourselves and others that we would behave in a certain manner under certain conditions, but what do we actually DO when we are confronted with those conditions?  Will our professed character, who we believe we really are, actually come through as our practiced character?

When a subordinate fails to behave or perform according to Professed Behaviors, we can explore the reasons and try to contain or to resolve it.  But when we hear a manager or leader say what are the core values and/or principles (personal and/or corporate), and then see them acting in ways inconsistent with those values and principles, we sense not only that there is a critical disconnect, but very possibly that the leadership direction and means are suspect and success can be in jeopardy.  And we question what is the true underlying character.

It takes time to try to confirm the answers to these questions. If the behaviors over time are consistent with a different set of or a different priority of values and principles, then it can be fairly safe to conclude that the behaviors are reproducible and predictable and we will adjust our character assessment of the person.

Real examples are reasonably easy to identify.  On the negative side, most recently Lance Armstrong, and before that, the executives of Enron. On the positive side, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr.

What do people learn by watching you?


About Jim Edmonds

I am a husband, father, mentor, who once was a chemist turned physicist turned marketer turned executive turned missionary turned professor. And survived it all.
This entry was posted in 08: Observing, Listening, Learning, 09: Doing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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