What You Don’t Know About People

Becoming a more effective person, one situation at a time.

Posted Dec 29, 2011

You've been lied to. Or, at the very least, misled. It's simply not true that everything you need to know about life you learned in Kindergarten.

As adults we keep this up, thinking of those around us as more or less predictable personalities. But you don't know people as well as you think you do. How else to explain the ubiquitous yet empty mid-scandal assurance that so-and-so couldn't have done the deed in question because he just isn't capable of it? Or the double-take we do upon seeing the supremely accomplished surgeon exhibiting supreme incompetence when it comes to, say, parallel parking?

As I argue in my new book out today, when our worldview remains stuck within the confines of personality type, we never grasp the true nature of human nature. We fail to appreciate the ways in which ordinary situations—like where you are or who you're with—transform what we think, how we act, and who we really are.

What's so important about the power of context? Well, for starters, when you overlook it, getting what you want in life becomes that much harder.

Instead of yelling and stomping off—even when yelling and stomping off are justifiable—force yourself to take a step back. Analyze the situation objectively. This isn't the person who sent your luggage to St. Paul instead of St. Louis. She's just following procedure. Stay calm and suss out the details—and loopholes—of that procedure, and you're much more likely to get the concession you're looking for.

Men are from Mars and women from Venus? Not so fast. Yes, biological explanations exist for sex differences in aggression, sense of direction, and who we're willing to mate with. But many of these supposedly fixed (and interplanetary) differences between men and women shrink or even disappear with just the tiniest of tweaks to context.

Situations Matter. Everywhere and all the time. It's the central lesson (and title) of my new book, and one that will change the way you see the world around you. And it's a lesson that just might turn you into a more effective person, whether you're trying to negotiate with customer service, talk your boss into a raise, find love, or, yes, even help poor Kevin kick that nasty paste-eating habit.

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Like this post? Interested in the book? Check out the website for Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World (now available!).  You can also follow Sam on Facebook here and on Twitter here.  Book trailer video below: