The Lens of Human Understanding



“To understand the heart and mind of a person, look not at what he has already achieved, but at what he aspires to.” — Kahlil Gibran

For each of us, there is a zone of normal or best behavior and exaggerated or worst behavior.

A person’s behavior can seem very confusing, unless you have a simple lens for understanding behavior.

The better you can understand behaviors, the better you can deal with difficult behaviors, as well as correct your own bad behaviors, when dealing with other people.

In Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst, Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner write about an organizing framework for understanding and dealing with difficult behaviors.

The Lens of Understanding

The Lens of Human Understanding is a simple way to look at behaviors.  For example, does somebody express a task-focus or a people-focus?  Are they aggressive or passive?

Here’s a visual example showing how focus and assertiveness fit together:

At a glance, you can see the primary pivots:

  • Task Focus vs. People Focus
  • Aggressive vs. Passive

Focus and Assertiveness

Behavior is a blend and continuum of focus (people or task) and assertiveness (passive or aggressive):

  • Task Focus – Task focus is when attention is focused almost exclusively on the task on hand. "Did you bring the report?", "Did you finish your homework and chores?", "Do you have those figures?"
  • People Focus – People focus is when attention is focused almost exclusively on relationships. "Hey, how was your weekend?", "How’s the family", "How are you feeling today?", "Did you see what I did?"
  • Aggressive – Aggressive reactions can range from bold determination to domination, belligerance, and attacks.
  • Passive – Passive reactions can be submissiveness, yielding, and even complete withdrawal.

Putting It All Together

According to Brankman and Kirschner, you can learn a lot about a person’s focus and yourself by simply observing behaviors.

Via Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst:

"A person can focus on people aggressively (e.g. belligerence), assertively (e.g. involvement), or passively (e.g. submission). A person can focus on a task aggressively (e.g. bold determination), assertively (e.g. involvement), or passively (e.g. withdrawal).

These behavioral characteristics can be observed through your lens of understanding, in others and in yourself."

Four General Intents

People behave based on intent. Here are four general intents that shape behavior:

  • Get the task done. When you really need to get something done you tend to speed up rather than slow down, to act rather than deliberate, to assert rather than withdraw. When a task is urgent, you may become careless and aggressive, leaping before you look, and speaking without thinking first.
  • Get the task right. When getting it right is your highest priority, you will likely slow things down enough to see the details, becoming increasingly focused on and absorbed in the task at hand. You will probably take a good, long look before leaping, if you ever leap at all.
  • Get along with people. When there are people with whom you want to get along, you may be less assertive as you put your needs above your own.
  • Get appreciation from people. Get appreciation from people requires a higher level of assertiveness and a people focus, in order to be seen, heard, and recognized. The desire to contribute to others and be appreciated is one of the most powerful motivation forces known. Studies show that people who love their jobs, as well as husbands and wives who are happily married, feel appreciated for what they do and who they are.

Knowing the four general intents helps you understand and deal with difficult behaviors.

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