Principle of Objectivity #2 Can Improve Your Relationships

Are we the same or are we unique? What mental model helps you be more objective?

Posted May 06, 2016

We all perceive and respond to our world through the lens of our mental models. In order to be objective, we must identify and transform limiting and unproductive mental models and change our minds. Four principles of objectivity have been helpful insights to help transform old mental models.  In this blog post we will review Principle #2.

Principle #2: People are Fundamentally the Same But Are Also Unique

There is always a spirited debate about this principle, so it is important to understand the context. The Human Genome Project has confirmed that we are all fundamentally the same! Of the three billion DNA base pairs, only 0.1 percent distinguishes each of us from anyone else on the planet. In addition to our genetic similarity, we are all fundamentally the same in terms of our basic needs and desires. Some may say these universal desires are also a part of our DNA.

In the context of objectivity, this means that we must assume that everyone has formed mental models through which they frame their world based on their unique experiences. We can assume that just like you, everyone has a unique frame of reference; just like you, everyone else is thinking and acting through mental models they are probably not aware of. For example, many people have the common mental model that they are not good enough and are trying to minimize that feeling by aspiring to be perfect. Many of us are looking for someone to validate us, tell us that we are okay. Many people are worried about their health or their children or their careers. When you really think about it, in these ways we are all fundamentally the same.

A difficult challenge for many of us is the desire to control other people. Many of us get frustrated when someone doesn’t act the way we want them to. We want them to be like us and see the world the way we do, and respond to us in the same way that we would respond to them. We often get angry when we are unable to change people. But the true source of this anger is often our lack of acceptance that people are fundamentally the same, even though unique. That is, other people behave as they do because of their unique frames of reference, based on their backgrounds and experiences hardwired in their neural nets—just like you respond the way you do because of your mental models that are based on your background and experiences.

Being objective means understanding and accepting that people are fundamentally the same but unique in their background experiences and therefore their perspectives. Being objective means allowing people to be who they are. If you expect people to conform to your desires, then it is your own unfulfilled expectation that causes you anger. Instead of trying to change the other person and getting angry at them when they don’t change, objectivity demands that you understand and accept another person’s point of view or frame of reference. By accepting this principle and allowing people to be who they are, you will create more collaborative relationships at work and happier, more sustainable relationships at home. This is not to say that if someone you care about is in trouble you don't try your best to help them. Being objective is understanding that people can only change themselves, but you can try to be a catalyst.  Helping someone or being a catalyst for change requires great objectivity. It is not about imposing your point of view. It starts with accepting the other person, not judging them for who they are or for what might be happening.

purchased from 123rt stock images
Source: purchased from 123rt stock images

Case #1 - Patricia, a 30-year-old career woman and mother, relates to this principle this way:

Understanding and accepting this principle will have a large impact on my career. While I try to put myself in another’s shoes during consulting engagements and change initiatives, I can think of times when I have totally forgotten that my boss also has mental models and might be acting a certain way because of an emotion that has nothing to do with me. For example, what I might perceive as a lack of risk taking and leadership, as well as micromanaging, might be caused by many mental models. Realizing that other people have similar patterns and can get on a “crazy train” of thought sometimes will make me more aware of the facts, the “what is,” rather than projecting mental models onto something and boarding the crazy train myself.

Case #2 - Lawrence, a corporate attorney in his late 40s with a family, struggles with this principle a bit and shares: 

"If we conclude that people are fundamentally the same, I think that goes against what I’ve been told for most of my life, which is that everyone is different and that is okay (usually). I suppose that when it gets down to the hierarchy of needs, then fundamentally, yes we are all the same. Everyone needs to be safe and secure, have a sense of family or community, food, water, et cetera. Thinking about it now, I suppose that I often do not think that fundamentally everyone is the same. At work, if someone did not do something that was supposed to be done or perhaps not the way that I would have done it, there is a small piece of me that always thinks, why did that person do it that way when they should have done it this way? I tend to be a tough judge of character, and if I don’t see someone working “hard” by my definition, then I can’t help but be a little critical. But at the end of the day, almost everyone is working for their families, to put food on the table or take care of their children or trying to provide a better life for themselves. When I go to work tomorrow, I am going to try and remember that people are fundamentally the same. I think it will allow me to relate to people better, and in doing so, will enable me to become a much stronger leader. If people are able to relate to one another, then it creates a strong, effective, successful team. By looking at people through the lens of “people are fundamentally the same,” I think it will allow me to potentially change some of the mental models that I have of others, and perhaps be a little less critical of them.

In my next blog post, I will review Principle of Objectivity #3: You Cannot Always Control The Results Of Your Actions. Can you imagine how this might help you be more objective about your work?

Excerpt from: The Objective Leader: How to Leverage the Power of Seeing Things As They Are.