Psychology at Work: Who cares?

We are social animals in a psychological world.

This is true — even if you know someone who is more than a little introverted, or think that psychology is only for crazy people. This simple fact is at the crux of just about all, if not everything, we do. From teamwork and individual advancement to differences in judgment, we all are influenced by both of these realities every day, every where. And this includes the complex relationships of psychology at work.

Psychology.  As Descartes put it so clearly, Cogito ergo sum (translation: “I think, therefore I am”). We are a thinking being — and more. That’s why psychology types use the word “cognition” so much.  The point is if you’re reading this, ‘cogs’ are turning in your head and you’re using, and even beholden to, the ‘stuff’ of psychology.

Social Animals.  We all depend on, appreciate, or want to be with someone — even if it’s to start a fight. Absent people, you’re literally – and figuratively – casting a mere shadow of yourself. If you think you might be a vegetable, this post’s not for you.

Bottom line: Anyone who’s dealt with a few children will agree, people are animals. (And no, we don’t grow out of it).

Even if you agree that the first line of this post is true, you may still puff, “Who cares?”

You, especially, should.

The ability to manage these truths could be the difference between believing (deliberate use versus “being”) ‘wrong’ or ‘right,’ success or failure, and even life or death.

Implications of Being Social at Work:

Humans are not only social, we’re the MOST SOCIAL of all animals. We NEED to be with people. “Time out” truly is punishment for children, even if it seems like nirvana to the adults.

Getting to the context of people at work, just like all social animals we need to relate to others in two, social, but seemingly contradictory ways:

  • To get along
  • To get ahead

Sometimes the implications of this fact of social psychology at work are clear. Teams, whether in the workplace or on the sports field, generally are made up of individuals that understand the need to get along (align efforts) in order to get ahead of (beat) the competition.

“Why can’t we all just get along?” Rodney King (1965-2012)

Because we can’t. We aren’t built that way.

A particularly challenging call for social animals is knowing when to do what. When is it “team time” vs. “crush the opponent time”? Beyond this question, exactly who is the team? Even within a team, there is the inevitable 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 conundrum of exactly when and how to choose and effect their ‘get along’ versus ‘get ahead’ instincts. One bad call here can really set you back.

Implications of Living in a Psychological World:

Everything we know is the product of our psychological processes (i.e. sense, perception). Even reflexes we were born with (like running when you hear someone call you by your full name). The real, interesting fact is that our psychological processes aren’t perfect. We don’t know exactly what the “real world” is like — or even if it exists. And, no, I’m not referring to Timothy Leary.

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 in our psychological processes that results in these differences affecting whether you see a beige dress or a blue dress when looking at the same picture.

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. Vigorous conflicts emerge over the same ‘data’.

Two x Two = Anything:

The combination of these factors yields highly unpredictable results.

The fact that we are social animals, driven by needs to be with AND 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 until I hang my hat. The results that arise from opposing social motives mixed with imperfect processing systems are innumerable – even if we leave the topic of rational versus irrational processes out for now. These are just a couple examples I’ve used here to illustrate the power of psychology at work.

This blog is dedicated to exploring the real (and, yes, perceived) impact of psychology at work, but they generalize to non-work contexts as well. Posts are written to make us aware of psychology based issues and to offer advise on how to handle them.

I hope you enjoy these whether you see them as frivolous blather, or soul piercing truth.

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