Science can discern a whole host of things from even the tiniest drop of blood. An individual’s entire DNA makeup, relative health, even the food or other materials they may have ingested can be derived from analysis of the tiniest drop of material.
Getting at this information, however, is not automatic. No matter how hard one gazes at the drop of blood, the information will not come, a scientist must work to process the blood and run the tests to get the information he/she is looking for, but once they do so we can safely say a whole host of information is contained in a small container.
Parallel in Human Interactions
We find a parallel to this concept in human interactions. Large amounts of information are often contained in even small human interactions, provided we: a. look for it b. put in the required amount of effort to extract it.
For example, say John is interviewing with Bob for a job. Things are going well, the interaction seems pleasant enough, the job is what John is looking for, the pay is right and Bob seems reasonable enough. Later, in thinking about whether he wants to accept the job offer, there is something nagging at John that he can’t quite put his finger on. He realizes that during the interview Bob refers to someone who works for him as an ‘underling’. In scenario A John ends his mental analysis there, shrugs his shoulders and explains it as ‘hey, its office politics-it-happens every-day’ and accepts the job.
In scenario B, John spends some time thinking about what a seemingly innocuous kind of comment might mean (he puts on his scientist hat and ‘breaks down the blood’). He recognizes that behavior comes from internal attitudes and perspectives and someone who views the people that work for him as ‘an underling’ is showing a great deal about his attitudes and, over time, his behavior is likely to reflect these attitudes. He declines the job and continues looking until he finds an individual whose internal attitudes are more reflective of the kind of person he wants to work for.
I think the takeaways are this:
- Sometimes a great deal of information–sometimes all we need to know—is contained within a small container, provided we go after it and do the mental gymnastics needed to extricate it
- Most people would probably argue that a lengthy pattern of behavior is needed to come to any kind of conclusions about a human interaction scenario. And in many cases I think that is indeed 100% true. But I’d suggest that sometimes we know what we need to know very quickly—we feel it in our gut, we’ve mentally done the analysis and know what is implied by even the small sample of behavior but our doubts or self-justifications make an appearance and drive us off center.
Take the job interview example we cited above—let’s break the thought process down into its component parts to see what we mean:
- John hears Bob refer to someone who works for him as an ‘underling’. His initial reaction is “man, he doesn’t think very highly of the people that work for him”
- “Yeah, but <insert justification here>” (<the pay is good>, <the commute is awesome>, <it’s just office politics>, <it happens everywhere>)
- John accepts the job
- Fast forward six months and Bob’s true colors have shown, with impatient behavior, derogatory comments, and unreasonable expectations. John is jonesing to get out, regretting the day he ever took the job.
I think the point is that oftentimes careful hindsight of decisions we regret show that it wasn’t that we made a decision without enough information. We had all the information we need. We just didn’t pay enough attention to it.
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- About the Author
Nathan Safran is a former Analyst at Forrester Research where he covered the Digital Home. While at Forrester, Nathan authored research studies on trends, attitudes and behaviors of consumers toward technology adoption and use.
Nathan has been quoted as a subject matter expert in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Fortune magazine. Currently, Nathan heads the Research Department at Conductor, Inc an SEO Technology Platform firm.
Nathan writes at exceljockey.com about the intersection of Business, Technology and Psychology. See the About page for more info. Follow Nathan on Twitter: @Nathan_Safran