A Ghost Story
When two people meet for the first time, we ask, “How are you?” Do we really want to know?
It’s not that we are un-empathetic to the plight of others. But when we meet someone we are simply trying to build a working communication structure. We are hard wired to do so and practice this with varying degrees of success regularly. Although some people find meeting new people intimidating, we know that if we are just polite and go by this script, all will be well.
There is reason to believe this. We are all gifted with an area of the brain called the Mirror Neuron System. This structure can be found in four separate regions of the brain (UCLA Research 2005). It functions by allowing us to recognize, empathize and adjust our behavior. We subconsciously open ourselves to relationships with the behavior of other people. We determine how we will communicate with methods as simple as determining a common language and as complex as reading emotions and motivations.
So in not going beyond “how are you”, it’s possible, even probable, that during this brief exchange, we may be seeing someone who isn’t there at all.
Are you real?
As in any unconscious behavior, we are not in full conscious control. We make judgments about how people dress, what their accent implies, their rate of speech, facial expressions and what opinions or observations they are quick to reveal. We are constantly processing our comfort with them. When we fail to establish an easy communication structure with someone, it makes us uncomfortable. So we blame them. After all, we are exactly the kind of person we like to meet. Why can’t they see that?
Those of us familiar with Extended DISC Profiling do far better in establishing and maintaining interpersonal relationships since we are using a reliable system based on behavior. Some call this personality profiling, but what is a personality? Arguably, it is a predictable set of responses to stimuli. In other words, it is not who we are but how we behave. As we grow in familiarity with people, how we behave becomes predictable. When we are having a bad day and not behaving in familiar ways, people tell us we are not acting like ourselves. We are not being real.
Or is it me?
We see people through the lenses of our own style. When we meet someone who is like us, we are comfortable. Sometimes to the point where we think we have known them all of our lives. When we meet people who are different than ourselves, we have to use our energy to be comfortable with them. We have to consciously do the job of the Mirror Neuron System. We don’t just try to walk in their shoes, we try their shoes on. We also observe and judge how they try us on. If it goes well, we assign them trust whether they deserve it or not. We see only what we want to see and disregard the rest.
True self-awareness is not just in knowing how we behave but recognizing that there are things we don’t see. When we have an uncomfortable communication with some one who behaves differently than us we leap to judgment. We may see them as flippant, demanding, wishy-washy, boring or any of an infinite number of things that are simply constructs of our own style. We see a ghost who is not there.
And so does the ghost. We are not just reading others, but being read, we are not the only ones making judgments, but being judged. And try as we might, the Mirror Neuron System of both parties makes it impossible to get away with it.
Many people think Extended DISC Profiling is all about how people appear to each other based on behavior. It goes beyond that. Extended DISC Profiling is a powerful interpersonal and business tool. It gives us a framework to predict how others will behave and how to adjust our styles to make them comfortable. It helps us to see what is real and what is imagined.
We end where we begin. How are you? Are you real or a ghost?
Let me know.