How psychology affects you

Psychways | Psychology affects you (and all animals)

We are social animals living in a psychological world.

This simple reality has enormous consequences for everyone, everywhere. Here I explain two really big ways regarding how psychology affects you.

Implications of being Social:

Human beings are not only social, but the MOST social of all animals. As such, and just like all social animals, we need to relate to others for two purposes:

  • To get along
  • To get ahead

{There is a third reason, but I am committed to maintaining a PG-13 rating for these posts.}

Sometimes the implications of these social needs are clear. For example, teams – whether in the workplace or on the sports field – understand that the team members need to get along with each other in order to get ahead of (or beat) the competition.

But it isn’t always this clear or simple. Inevitably, even within a team, there is competition among members to establish rank or get ahead.

A lot of what I do in the workplace is to work with individuals and teams so that they better manage the sometimes difficult choice regarding when to agree, and get along, versus when to take action to get ahead. One bad call here can really set you back.

Implications of a Psychological World:

The second reality of our being is that we live in a psychological world. Everything we know is the product of our psychological processes (i.e. sensation, perception, reasoning, emotion). The real interesting fact (at least to me), is that our psychological processes aren’t perfect. We don’t know exactly what the “real world” is like.

This isn’t a complicated metaphysical issue. The fact that our senses are imperfect can readily be illustrated by the fact that two or more people do not experience the same ‘thing’ the same way. Regardless of right or wrong, there’s something going on via our psychological processes that results in these differences like the one so publicly debated regarding the “beige dress, blue dress” photo. See for yourself.

For better or worse, our human perception system is not perfectly reliable. What we see may not be what we get, but it definitely is what we make of it.

This is another frequent reason I am asked to help out in work environments. No, not to sort out whether a dress is blue or beige, but to deal with the fact that differences in perception, attitude and ultimately behavior can cause real problems. How often do we hear another public figure explaining, “that isn’t what I meant”? One thing is said or done and many different interpretations arise. On a lighter note, sometimes individuals become so engrossed in debate that they actually wind up disagreeing in style/tone, but agreeing in content/fact. This is where the term, “violent agreement” gets its meaning.

Two x Two equals Anything:

The fact that we are social animals, driven by needs to be with and/or dominate others, combined with the fact that our perception systems are unreliable, results in a very complex world at work – or anywhere.

Just these two factors could keep me busy till I “hang my hat.” The potential results that arise from different, sometimes opposing social motives combined with imperfect processing systems are innumerable. I’ve shared just a couple examples here to illustrate the pervasive and extraordinary power of psychology at work.

This, and other posts in my blog (esp. What is bias?, How about a little science with that intuition?), are dedicated to exploring the real and powerful impact of psychology at work, and also at play (non work). The intent is to help readers become more aware of the ever-present, psychology-based issues in all of our worlds and to offer advise on how to handle them.

 

Using Best Practices in Different Organizations

Best Practices Stamp

Very early in any engagement, or discussion I have with individuals representing an organization, I hear the same declaration:

We’re different.

True. Anyone who’s been associated with more than one organization (which means you’ve been working more than five years) can testify that no organization is like another. In fact, if you think of two organizations typically considered close competitors, you’re probably thinking that they’re not only different, they’re complete opposites. (We have a tendency to accentuate differences and diminish similarities – but that’s for another time.)

Based on the fact that all organizations are different, the logic of implementing a “carbon copy” (for you Millennials and late era Boomers, “mirror image”) practice that was done in another organization is flawed.

If no two organizations are alike, then why does it make any sense to pursue “best practices”?

There are a few reasons why organizations frequently seek best practices:

  1. As social organizations we continuously compare ourselves to others.
  2. As social organizations we continuously seek to exceed others.
  3. As commercial organizations we continuously seek maximum effectiveness at minimum effort.

Quite simply, we want to know how we compare, compete and function relative to others. The same motivations drive individuals.

Despite the self-evident reality that all organizations are different, “best practices” are alluring because they feed our needs for comparing, competing and functioning at optimal levels.

Beyond allure, there are legitimate reasons why a quest for best practices makes sense.

Best practices can legitimately inform similar efforts in other organizations.

Note especially the terms, “inform” and “similar.”

The key to making best practices work across organizations is to extract the key principles, actions and lessons and then adapt them to fit in other organizations.

Implications for Best Practices:

  1. Replication is not the goal. It has to work in the new organization.
  2. HOW is more important than WHAT. It’s all about execution.

When pursuing “best practices” be sure to take time to consider HOW a given practice can be, or is implemented in a different organization. It’s much more important to know how (or why) a given practice adds value than to precisely replicate said practice step-by-step.