#MTtalk Review: Navigating the Complexities of Human Interactions » Mind Tools Blog
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#MTtalk Review: Navigating the Complexities of Human Interactions

October 16, 2018


“Every life is a canvas and every interaction is a brush, therefore we’d be wise to consider how we handle the paint.”
– Craig D. Lounsbrough, U.S. author and counselor

The Many Ways We Differ

When I’m presenting sessions about diversity, I often ask people for their definitions of the concept. Usually, people give me answers related to race, culture, religion, and language.

But last week, a colleague and I held a conference session where we explored the broader meaning of diversity. Of course, it includes the factors mentioned above, but it’s more than that.

How about diversity of thinking preferences and personalities? For example, some people are introverts, and others are extroverts. Some make decisions in a logical, rational and analytical way, while others use feeling and intuition.

Other diversity factors include education, where you grew up, your profession, your hobbies, and your social affiliations. Your personal history and lived experience can never be the same as another person’s.

Another often overlooked diversity factor is the issue of values. You may differ from another person in every other respect, but if you share similar values you’ll have a lot in common – and vice versa.

Assumptions and Other Misleading Factors

During the session, we also explored – very honestly – how people tend to deal with differences. The three main culprits that we identified were assumptions, absolutist thinking, and stereotyping.

We explained them as follows:

  • Assumption: a thing that you accept as true, and act on as if it were true, without proof that it’s true. An example would be: you don’t socialize with me at work, so I assume you that don’t like me, and I act toward you as if you don’t like me.
  • Absolutist thinking (or black-white thinking): there are only two options, and no spectrum of possibilities in between. In other words, if something isn’t good, it has to be bad. If it isn’t black, it has to be white.
  • Stereotyping: when what you think about someone is based on an assumption that you’ve made about an entire group of people.

All of the delegates who attended our sessions said that they’ve used assumptions and stereotypes in the past simply because it was easy. It didn’t require them to really think about a situation or engage with another person.

One delegate shared how she made certain negative assumptions about a person with tattoos. He came into the doctor’s surgery where she was waiting for medical attention, and she wondered what “his type” was doing there. In fact, the guy with the tattoos turned out to be the doctor!

Navigating the Complexities of Human Interactions

Two of the recurring themes in last Friday’s #MTtalk Twitter chat were making assumptions and jumping to conclusions. Many participants felt that assumptions are probably the biggest obstacle we face in our interactions with other people. Another is poor listening. Here are all of the questions we asked, and some of the responses:

Q1. How do you understand “complexities” in this context?

@JKatzaman Every person has different sensitivities that lead to complex interactions. What is fine with one person or culture might offend another.

@Midgie_MT There is no one rule or way things are done. There are infinite variations of possibilities when interacting with others. You cannot apply the same rule and generalize about everyone.

Q2. What makes interaction with others so difficult/complex sometimes?

@MarkC_Avgi Even circumstances that one person may be dealing with at that specific time may change their reaction from how they may otherwise react. You might expect a normal “repeated” reaction to something you say or do, and get a totally different one from the norm.

@BrainBlenderTec People often make it harder than it is as insecurity, ego and bias all flood in when they forget that, at the core, we are all just humans trying to navigate our way in the world to be happy.

Q3. What obstacles do you most often encounter when dealing with other people?

Many of you said that when we make assumptions, they lead to difficulties in our interactions.

@YEPBusiness Unreasonable expectations and unfounded assumptions often gum up the works in human interactions.

@CareerGoals360 Lack of being open for discussions, and jumping to conclusions.

@KobusNeethInst People assume the message they hear has the tone that they think it has.

Q4. How has technology influenced your human interactions?

@GodaraAR 1. The distance barrier has been removed. 2. The interactions are real now – across borders. 3. Tracking of interactions has become easier.

@Jikster2009 It’s increased the options of communication, but at the same time diminished the emphasis of interacting face to face, which makes it harder to develop relationships. Some alternative forms of interaction are also open to wider interpretation, which can cause issues.

Q5. What positives come out of complex human interactions?

As much as we’d like all our interactions to be smooth sailing, complex interactions help us to learn more about ourselves and other people.

@SaifuRizvi Complex human interactions sometimes produce extraordinary solutions!

@MicheleDD_MT It has acted as a mirror to uncover the assumptions and biases I have when interacting with others. Think first, then write or speak.

Q6. What is the most important lesson you’ve ever learned about human interactions?

@sittingpretty61 Never minimize the power of words and the impact they have on another person.

@GThakore Listen first. See every possible angle. Don’t hear only what you want to hear. Be a straight communicator.

Q7. How have you had to change your thinking when dealing with people?

Complex human interactions often force us to think differently, and to change our actions to attain a different outcome.

@LernChance Always be aware that misinterpretation, arising from different backgrounds (life, company, origin) can happen – even if you think you know your audience.

@harrisonia One thing I have been accepting for the last 20 years is that just because people have respected credentials does not mean they have common sense or a basic understanding of technology.

Q8. What can you do to facilitate smoother human interactions?

@Yolande_MT Help and teach people to accept other people as they are, not as you want them to be.

@DrRossEspinoza Speaking, clarifying and engaging with what the other person looks for. Also, communicating face to face or by telephone helps lots.

Q9. What tool(s) do you use to navigate complex interactions?

@MegOKerns This one is more difficult: in face-to-face interactions, I think it’s more about “reading the room” and knowing your audience. When in doubt, ask!

@s_narmadhaa I try to be present both physically and mentally. So when something trips me up, it shows on my face. And when I follow it up with questions, it’s often easy to navigate a complex conversation.

Q10. When dealing with people, what’s the one “go-to rule” you’d like everybody to embrace?

We particularly liked the way that Naeem (@NWarind) described his “go-to rule”:

@NWarind Try to put yourself in their shoes. Mostly, shoes are flexible and we are not.

@SabrinaCadini Respect, above all. Unfortunately, we live in a society that is losing respect for one another (starting from many top leaders), and that affects many areas in our lives, personally and professionally.

To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat.

Coming Up

Communication, learning how to navigate human interactions, and conflict management are three of the most widely covered learning and development topics. We’re going to talk about L&D in our next #MTtalk, and in our Twitter poll this week we’d like to know what you think is the most overtrained but underapplied training topic. Please vote in our Twitter poll, here.


In the meantime, here are some resources that may help you to navigate the complexities of human interactions:

Perceptual Positions
Emotional Intelligence
8 Ways to Improve Your Self-Regulation
How to Apologize
How to Work With Irritating People
Building Trust
Building Great Work Relationships
Boost Your Interpersonal Skills
Transactional Analysis
Bell and Hart’s Eight Causes of Conflict
Working With People You Don’t Like
The Betari Box
The Johari Window

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