Sensemaking: lighting a lamp beneath the surface

8 02 2012

I seem to spend an extraordinary amount of my life explaining the actions of people I have never met or seen. And usually getting it right, it seems.

The really extraordinary thing, though, is the extent to which the analysis and the advice flowing from that seem to make a difference. “That makes so much sense” or “now I understand” or “you have just saved me from making a really big mistake” are of course gratifying to hear, but I don’t take too much of the credit.

Two things are at work here. The obvious one is that using the Birkman Method gives insight into the hidden but persistent needs and expectations of the individual in a way that no other tool does. Yes there are various extensions and extrapolations that claim to illuminate this “underworld” of the individual, but only Birkman actually measures it. When you see how different the measured “underworld” can be from the measured “overworld’ (personality traits on display most of the time), you realise why the extrapolation approach was never going to yield meaningful data.

But here is the other thing. We all seem to have this profound need to “make sense” of what we see around us; but we are largely unequipped to more than simply read the surface of things. As a result, we are often left endlessly processing and re-processing information about the behaviour of those around us; behaviour which can only be explained by adducing a hidden agenda on the part of the other person, usually with some degree of either malignity or stupidity on their part.

And that is why my explanation of the behaviour of someone I have never met is greeted with such pure relief on many occasions: we don’t actually want to think the worst of the people we work with. Our lack of illumination on what is going on beneath the surface for them so often leaves us with no other (apparent) option. 

So if you want to make a difference anywhere in the field of human relations, at work or else where, get yourself a really bright light, and then hold it beneath the surface.

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