184. Managing Age, Cultural & Personality Differences, Jerks & Assholes

24 takeaways from this video:

1. Understanding the human brain

00:00:01 Evolutionarily speaking, the human brain is divided up into three basic parts:

  • The brainstem, or reptilian part of the brain is responsible for basic bodily functions such as breathing, your heart beat, etc.
  • The limbic system “supports a variety of functions including emotion (fear, anger, hunger, sex…), behavior, motivation, and long-term memory.”
  • The neocortex “is involved in higher functions such as sensory perception, motor commands, spatial reasoning, conscious thought and language.”

As explained in the BBC documentaries Superbrand Secrets From The Fashion Industry and The Technology Industry, most human behavior is driven by unconscious brain processes.

Priming is “a process in which the processing of a target stimulus is aided or altered by the presentation of a previously presented stimulus.” When humans see things that they have been primed to like, the pleasure centers in their limbic system responsible for reward, craving and addiction activate. Connect one stimulus with another enough times, and the brain unconsciously connects the two.

Humans do things, and for the most part they have no idea why they are doing them. Your neocortex is the puppet, and your limbic system is the puppet master.

For more on this topic, read the books:

00:01:22 Humans alive today have been divided up into for different age generations:

For more information on this topic, check out:

2. Understanding human needs and wants

00:01:46 The following factors may vary slightly according to generation, gender, culture and personality profile, however universally, humans all have the same basic needs:

  • Security
  • Economic stability
  • Sense of belonging
  • Recognition as humans and for their accomplishments
  • Control over life

For more information on this, check out:

00:02:04 Once a human’s basic needs have been met, humans then seek fulfillment of basic universal wants:

  • Problem solved
  • Effort made
  • Acknowledgement and understanding
  • Choices and options
  • Positive surprises
  • Consistency, reliability and predictability
  • Value for money
  • Reasonable simplicity
  • Speed
  • Confidentiality
  • Sense of importance

3. Understanding ‘difficult’ people

00:02:40 The resulting cocktail of the various aspects of a person’s cultural background, religious beliefs, age demographic, gender, needs and wants of the peson and their personality combine to create individual profiles. Profiles which both compliment and frustrate each other:

  • Some people are very talkative, while others are not (see social below)
  • Some people are very direct and blunt in the way they communicate, while others are more indirect and diplomatic
  • Some people are very detail-oriented, while others dislike details and prefer to hear about the bigger picture (see conceptual below)
  • Some people are very tentative to others, while others never listen
  • Some people are very emotional, while others are very stoic (see expressive below)
  • Some people are organized, while others are not
  • Some people micro-manage their projects, while others prefer to take a more hands off approach

There are, depending on the circumstances, personality profiles which are better suited to certain situations than others, so there is no universally-accepted ideal profile, and any justification made on what makes a person ‘difficult’ is subjective.

4. Understanding ‘self-destructive’ people

It’s one thing when diverging beliefs and behaviors collide, but quite another when the logic and rationality behind a person’s behvior seems counter-productive and illogical, such as a person who:

  • Sends long, insulting emails
  • Needlessly lies and over exaggerates stories and situations
  • Wastes time and money solving minor problems while larger problems go unaddressed
  • Takes special advantages over others ALL the time
  • Considers themselves to be better than others and above reproach
  • Refuses to listen to other people’s complaints

00:07:14 In the English language, we make a grammatical distinction between:

  • You ARE an asshole (simple present) – a fact made about who the person consistently is
  • You’RE BEING an asshole (present continuous) – a temporary departure from a person’s normal consistent behavior

For more information on this, read:

5. Why do ‘difficult’ and ‘self-destructive’ people exist?

00:07:56 Globally speaking, throughout their lives people develop habits and decision-making strategies – good and bad – based on what has worked for them in the past, and based on their cultural and society’s accepted norms and behaviors.

Secondly, globalization has made it possible for people and cultures from all around the world who, prior to modern technological and transportation advances would never have otherwise met, to find themselves sharing a cubicle or sitting around a table negotiating political trade agreements. There will of course be inevitable friction over the next few generations as humans learn to peacefully co-exist, if this is even possible.

In the meantime…

6. Dealing with contradictory cultural differences

00:08:29 These personality and cultural differences manifest themselves in several ways:

  • Emotional involvement. Some cultures value subjective approaches to problem-solving as a legitimate argument, while others take a more objective, dispassionate approach. A subjective person might think an objective person doesn’t care about the subjective person’s needs or wants, while an objective person would interpret the subjective person’s emotional outbursts as unprofessional.
  • Partiality. In matters of conflict, some cultures value a mediator who knows all parties involved personally, believing their relationship will lead to the best possible outcome. Others cultures expect 3rd party mediators to be neutral and unattached from all parties to ensure that one side isn’t given special treatment over another party.
  • Relationship. Some cultures expect to get down to business immediately, and have no difficulty doing business with people they dislike, and even hate, so long as their needs and wants are met. Other cultures will only do business with you once they feel they sufficiently know your values and integrity, and will not do business with people they do not like or trust.
  • Saving face. Some cultures consider it a sign of weakness to admit you have made a mistake, and will refuse to do so despite the most blatant of evidence. Other cultures consider it a sign of maturity and integrity when you can admit you’ve made a mistake.
  • Defense against accusations. Some cultures believe that only guilty people would feel the need to defend themselves against an accusation, and believe that if the person ignores the accusation, no matter how grave, the person must be innocent. Other cultures believe that if a person does not defend himself against an accusation, this means they accept the accusation as true and that they are guilty.
  • Eye contact. Some cultures consider it impolite to look someone else in the eyes, especially if the other person is of another gender or station in life (such as an employee and the CEO), and may even consider it as evidence the person is lying (looking at your eyes to see if you believe their lie). Other cultures consider direct eye contact a sign of self-confidence and trustworthiness, believing that if a person will not look you directly in the eyes, they must be lying.

The more direct contact you have with different cultures, the better you become at adapting your behavior to effectively do business with them. For more on this, watch the talk Human Resources Management: The Cost of Expatriate Failure by Matthew Hill.

00:11:00 Culture can be further dissected into three major elements:

  • High- versus Low Context. With high context languages, the meaning is already included inside of the sentence and is understood by the language speakers. Foreigners who haven’t grown up in the culture and speak the language as a mother tongue can have a very difficult time understanding the subtle nuances required to fully understand the communication’s intended message. In low context languages, the meanings and messages are included in the communication itself. With low context languages, it is considered polite to assume you don’t automatically know everything the speaker knows about the subject, and so include all relevant information inside of the verbal communication. Put a high- and a low context person into a discussion, the high context person may feel insulted that the low context person is ‘going into great detail’ about unimportant information, or talking down to the high context person, while the low context person might not understand what the high context person is saying, and feel as though the high context person is arrogant, or is a bad communicator.
  • Mono- versus Polychronic. Polychronic people are ‘multi-taskers, prefering to juggle responsibilities simultaneously. Monochronic people remove all distractions and focus on only one task at a time. Modern, tech-savy Y and Z Generations are used to having unlimited internet access and staying up to date on their social media accounts, and so tend to be polychronic. Globalization, of course, is changing this, and even though monochronic people are more productivestatistically, the world is becoming more polychronic, and managing multiple responsibilities at a time has become the norm.
  • Past- versus Future-Oriented. If every street and fountain in your city is named after a historically significant hero, your culture is probably past-oriented. Entrepreneurs tend to thrive more in future-oriented cultures, and are thus more attracted to those future-oriented cultures who look at the future with boundless opportunity, whereas past-oriented cultures would argue that “If you don’t remember the past, you’re destined to repeat your mistakes.”

7. Understanding and dealing with “Personalities”

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(Sample personality test from www.emergentics.com)

00:14:44 Although personalities are complex and vary according to context, personality can be parsed into broad categories:

  • Analytical people tend to emphasize logic and reasoning, rationality, intellectual and critical thinking. Ideally, you would send analytical people your presentation and meeting notes in advance so they have time to familiarize themselves with the subject and bring with them any relevant information and questions they feel would add to the decision-making process during the meeting. Analyticals dislike small talk irrelevant to the subject at hand, are persuaded through facts and figures, and they consider you competent in your subject until you prove them wrong. Analytical people ask critical questions, and you should be prepared for them.
  • Structural people tend to emphasize rules and protocols, practicality in decision-making, predictability, and learn by doing. When persuading structural people, focus on how your ideas can be applied practically, and give them step-by-step lists to take a project from inception to implementation. Respect their planning and be on time for all meetings. Structural people are likely to keep track of all correpondences, so if you say you will do something, or that you never received an email, be very sure of yourself.
  • Social people tend to emphasize relationships, empathy and teamwork. They will talk to a bunch of people for their opinion and input, and their opinion will be a mixture of all of those discussions; therefore ensure social people have enough time to gather information before asking them to make a decision. Social people are persuaded by pictures and graphs. The world humans live in is prominently analytical and social: airplanes arrive and take off on time, foreign work visas and health care applications are very predictable and organized to minimize mistakes and confusion on a mass scale. That the world is so analytical and structural can intimidate social people, who may disagree with certain decisions but hhave difficulty explaining precisely why they disagree because their disagreement is based on intuition and conversations with many different people.
  • Conceptual people tend to emphasize ‘out of the box’ thinking and experimenting, focusing on the bigger picture and dislike too many details. Conceptual people are persuaded by showing your showing them how your solution is unique, innovative and visionary.
  • Expressive people tend to make their emotions visible while they communicate. Less expressive people, sometimes without realizing it, tend to be more stoic and difficult to read because they control their emotions. This can lead to misunderstandings when the person agrees with you, but everything about their body language is neutral or suggests otherwise.
  • Assertive people tend to be heavily vested into their projects and actively make decisions concerning the project, and as such may be seen as agressive. Less assertive people may be equally involved in the project, but need more a leader to assign responsibilities to them before they know what to do.
  • Flexible people tend to willing to adapt their behavior, language, and planning to others’. Less flexible people, depending on their status, the situation, and their level of competence, my be labeled as stubbon or as a leader to follow.

For more information on personality profiling, check out:

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