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Four Rules to Understand What Makes People Tick

Four Rules to Understand What Makes People Tick
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    Breaking down human behavior into rules might seem like a gross simplification. But even with the complexities, it is easy to fall into the same mistakes. I’d argue that many heated fights, lost sales and broken hearts are caused by a few critical errors. If you make the wrong assumptions, you’ve lost before you begin.

    By keeping in mind these rules, you can avoid repeating the same mistakes.

    Rule One: People Mostly Care About Themselves

    People aren’t thinking about you. A damaging myth to buy into is believing the amount of time you think of yourself compares to the amount of time others think of you. In reality they are nowhere close. Take a look at this chart:

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      I’ve used this example before but I believe it deserves repeating. Take a look at the different slices of this chart. The biggest is the time you spend thinking about yourself. The second is the time spent thinking about relationships, but how they affect you. What does Julie think of me? Will my boss give me a raise or fire me? Do my friends respect me or just tolerate me?

      Only a tiny sliver is devoted to empathy. Empathy is the rare occasion where you think through the perspective of another person. When I’ve discussed these ideas previously, many people argue I’m being far too generous with my chart. In reality that sliver is probably even smaller.

      This means that you occupy only a tiny percentage of a persons thoughts. Waiting for people to invite you, becoming embarrassed at a minor faux-pas or emphasizing what others think of you come from failing to use this rule. Almost all people are far too self-absorbed to notice.

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      Rule Two: People are Motivated by Selfish Altruism

      To say all behavior is strictly selfish would be misleading. It fails to account for acts of charity, ethics and why people don’t just cheat, swindle and lie all the time. Selfish altruism is a broader category that covers why people do nice things as a way to get what they want.

      By studying primates, researchers noticed four main categories of selfish altruism. I believe they are the same categories we use, even if slightly more sophisticated:

      1. Dominance – Some primates will give help as a way of asserting dominance in the group. It is as if they are saying, “Look at how powerful I am that I can give some of my resources to help you.”
      2. Reciprocity – You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. The idea is that I do a favor for you with the assumption it will be returned one day. If the cost to me is less than the benefit towards you, I might help you even if I can’t predict an immediate payback.
      3. Trade – If we both have something the other person wants, we have a reason to interact. While reciprocity is vague on the details of a payback, trade is direct.
      4. Familial – It makes sense, from an evolutionary perspective, to help those who might share your genes.

      By looking through this lens of selfish altruism, you can better make decisions. Viewing people as completely uncaring or selfish is incomplete. But expecting people to think of you constantly and do nice things for free is dangerous.

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      Rule Three: People Don’t Think Much

      I believe we drastically overestimate what we do intentionally. Subconscious patterns, environmental stimulus and programmed reflexes occur frequently, even if we later take credit for them.

      The conscious mind is a relatively new addition to the human operating system. And it’s been designed to cleverly take credit for a lot of decisions it doesn’t really make. If someone asks you to be unbiased in making a decision, it is probably best to just laugh.

      The implication of this is that appealing entirely to thoughts won’t work. Since a bulk of decision making is made in the background, you need to target that background if you want to be influential. You don’t need to be manipulative, just smart enough to recognize that snap judgments mean a lot and your communication is more than just words.

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      Rule Four: Conformity is the Norm

      You become your environment. Uniqueness and individuality tend to warp to fit the people around you. This is true of other people as it is for yourself. It means you should be careful who you pick as friends, partners and colleagues.

      This is why I believe it is important to keep a varied social group. When you interact with people from completely different backgrounds, beliefs and behaviors on a regular basis you are more likely to see different perspectives. This also means you have more control in picking who you want to be.

      Applying the Four Rules

      Here are some applications of these rules you might want to consider:

      • What layers are you communicating with? If people are selfish, self-absorbed and fail to think much, just working on the words you use isn’t enough. Everything about you is communicating something, and unless you get that message straight, the most persuasive argument won’t win anyone over.
      • Give reminders. Although some people are meticulously organized, most aren’t. Give people the reminders they need so you don’t get left out unintentionally.
      • What’s your social value? This isn’t your worth as a person, but what you have to offer in terms of other peoples needs and wants. It is easy to get depressed about human issues, if you don’t see the calculations behind it. Improve the value you offer and you can access the selfish altruism in us all.

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      The Gentle Art of Saying No

      The Gentle Art of Saying No

      No!

      It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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      But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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      What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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      But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

      1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
      2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
      3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
      4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
      5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
      6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
      7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
      8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
      9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
      10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

      Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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