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Understanding Others

In order to engage effectively, individuals in organisations must understand one another. This article is not about the relatively simple understanding of day to day communications – even though we often get that wrong! This is about the more complex challenge of really understanding people; how they are wired, why they do the things they do and what they need from us. It is relevant to how peers understand each other and collaborate more effectively. It impacts on how we craft offerings to customers, learners and users. It is especially important for leaders who need to harness the unique contributions of each employee.

Understanding and interpreting behaviour in the workplace is complex and impacted by a number of variables. One of the most important is the lens or perspective through which individual behaviour manifests as well as the way in which it is interpreted and understood by others.

Each of us has our own individual worldview. Most interpretations of the world are developed gradually, starting in early childhood with the major influences being home, schools and other institutions to which the individual is routinely exposed. Interpretations continue to be regularly altered and adapted throughout life by exposure to influential people and circumstances.

If we appreciate that our worldview is our unique way of understanding and interpreting the world in which we live, then it is easier to recognize that there is no “one size fits all” for understanding others. The challenge is to recognize that our perspectives are just that – our personal understanding and viewpoint – not necessarily the whole truth. All of us filter our experiences of others though our own priorities, values, current pressures, existing knowledge and significant life events.

One of the ways of understanding workplace behaviour is through an appreciation of the innate strengths and natural gifts which the individual potentially brings to performance. Many people tend to take their best and natural gifts for granted (things come so easily to them in a particular sphere that they believe that anyone and everyone can do it with the same ease! Our natural talents strongly influence the way that we understand others and our lack of insight into the internal forces which drive them may cause us to misinterpret their behaviour.

Understanding the uniqueness of our own and others’ strengths tends to lead to more directed workplace performance and a deeper understanding of factors that are influencing outcomes. This does not imply that people can be excused responsibility for poor performance – merely that understanding what could underlie particular performance outcomes could open the door to developing more fruitful engagement.

Another way of understanding others comes from an appreciation of some of the dynamics of engagement. Some factors to consider are

  1. what leads individuals to invest their various resources (e.g. time, knowledge, physical energy, experience, reasoning power) in the workplace?

  2. the degree to which their investment is voluntary or because of pressure to earn or other factors from external sources.

  3. the extent to which people receive a meaningful reward and feel themselves valued and appreciated.

  4. the value an individual believes they contribute to the overall performance of an organization.

This is a vital and challenging topic. Most people are not taught to understand others in their formal education.

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