This week I read about a cute new book that’s out for children. It’s called “I’m Like You, You’re Like Me”, by Cindy Gainer. I’ve not read it, but apparently it’s to help children understand and value the ways in which they are the same and also different. Reading the title brought me around to the work I do in behavioral and values (motivators). The truth is that we aren’t like one another, at least from the outward appearances of what we convey and how we talk about what is important to us.
There are those people whom we are like, and the research shows that we like them best. If I recognize me in you, guess what? I like you better than the person I don’t recognize as well! The reason is that it is easier for us to communicate with someone who has a similar communication style to our own. If a person is bold, assertive and forthright, they value someone who is similar in approach. They would get frustrated by someone who needs to think, who is more quiet and pensive and not nearly as forthcoming. Some people actually enjoy conflict. When they engage with someone else who enjoys conflict, they can fight and then be friends. But, if they engage with someone who is more placid and more subdued, that person might actually feel attacked by the interaction.
It holds true with many other aspects of behavior. If I am a non-emotional, more stoic person who likes sameness and process and you are someone who likes to shake things up, I might get put off by your “juggling balls” style and you may think I am a “stick in the mud” who can’t change and adapt. We don’t view the other person as different, we view them as “wrong.”
And it runs even deeper with our values set. There are six core values amongst the population, according to research by Eduard Spranger. We all hold these values but we hold them in a different order of importance. So, if my top two (i.e. most important) values are your bottom two, we have a hard time seeing eye-to-eye on them. Not only do we disagree, but we may feel antithetical toward one another. We simply can’t believe someone else would see what they do as important.
Think of how this can play out in marriages or close relationships. If, for example, I have a strong Social value (one of Spranger’s categories), then I am someone who cares deeply about others. I want to do good on behalf of others and I don’t worry about the impact on me. My life is about doing good whenever possible. If you, however, have a strong Individualistic value (formerly called “Political” by Spranger you will be more ego-centered. You care about your name, your reputation and being in a leadership role. I might ask you to contribute to a charity I care about, and you would want to know what kind of organization it is before you lend your name to it. I think you are too self-focused and you think I am a “pansy” catering to the whim of anyone who needs money.
We don’t see the differences as being essential – in fact, they are what makes the world go round. Rather we see them as “wrong.” If we are honest, we want everyone else to be like us. We want them to sound like us, see things like we do and understand us. We don’t want to have to take time to explain the whys and wherefores; we want to just be comfortable with what we believe and have others jump on our bandwagon!
It takes work to understand another person’s communication style and approach. It takes work to listen underneath what they are saying to hear what they care about. It takes effort and energy to be reflective and active in our listening and to seek to understand. But what’s the consequence of not doing it? What happens if we all insist that everyone be like us and believe like we do? We reach an impasse, of course. We can’t move forward in our relationships.
This week, become aware of those people who are different from you. You don’t have to be like them, but work to like them for who they are. You don’t have to sacrifice your own value set, but work to understand the value set of others. Spending the time to understand isn’t just good for the other person, it teaches us something, too.