Focus on Uniqueness Rather Than Sameness

by Dean Tuckey | 20 October, 2016

Our need to classify is biologically wired into us. The system that classifies people and experiences is binary in nature (either/or), meaning that a person is either good or bad, right or wrong, like us or not like us. The system is useful from a survival perspective because it allows us to make quick assessments about people and our relative safety as well as helping us predict what we should expect from a situation or another person.

The ability to ‘thin slice‘ (draw conclusions from small amounts of information) has immediate advantages both in terms of our safety and energy consumption. By using ‘rules of thumb’ we conserve energy that would otherwise be expended if we decided to take an analytical approach to every interaction. However, using ‘rules of thumb’ can be problematic in building positive working relationships because of over simplification and a lack of understanding at the individual level.

In groups of people that are like us we naturally see nuance and individuality, however the opposite happens with groups that we don’t belong to – that are ‘not like us’. The out-group homogeneity effect describes the tendency to perceive out-group members as more similar to one another than are in-group members, e.g. “they are alike; we are diverse”. In addition we can find a tendency to focus on the negative rather than positive attributes of ‘out-groups’.

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The Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument is an organising principle, which helps us understand ‘where we belong’ and how we are different from others with regards to our preferences for learning, contributing and interacting across four broad categories; the blue quadrant and our inclination towards facts, data and critical analysis; the green quadrant with an inclination to organisation, structure and practical action; the red quadrant which represents an inclination toward relationships, communication and teamwork; and the yellow quadrant, future focussed with an inclination towards innovation and experimentation.

The model is useful in forming generalisations – we can say that those with a strong green preference will tend to be organised and like to work with clear objectives and within clear guidelines. This is helpful as a starting point and provides us with a common language, but the power in the model really comes from using our understanding of these broad characteristics to facilitate a conversation which helps us recognise how an individual’s colour preference influences the way they look to contribute and be validated in the workplace compared to another person with the same colour preference.

People with the same colour preference will see the similarities, but equally how they are different. The challenge we have is in resisting the ‘out-group homogeneity effect’ of those who have a quadrant preference that differs from our own, and to see and understand more of their uniqueness than their sameness.

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People’s preferences do not sit in a vacuum and are always in the context of the environment and another person (you). What is important for us to figure out is how our preferences play out in each working relationship and the easiest way to do this is to have a conversation. The aim of the conversation is to understand the conditions which will enable each person to feel safe, competent and valued. We are complex creatures with a dynamic tension between our need for belonging and our need for individuality.

Good luck understanding this for yourself and others.

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