When we observe people, we observe the equivalent of the tip of the iceberg.
We observe people's Actions. We observe their vocal actions, their body language, and the wide variety of their other physical actions. Yes, to various degrees we have hunches - intuitions - which allow us to sense things beyond their actions. Regardless, for the most part, our perceptions of people are based on our observations of their Actions.
And, that's like looking at the tip of an iceberg.
Here's how I see it...
We observe a person's Actions. The person's Actions create in our minds perceptions of the person's Energy, Thoughts, Talents, Self-Control, Intelligence, and Emotions. And, those are the most important things people possess beyond the Actions we observe. These 7 things - Actions, Energy, Thoughts, Talents, Self-Control, Intelligence, and Emotions - are the essence of human beings. One of the facets that make up the essence - Action - is visible to other people. The other 6 facets are hidden from others and it is often difficult to understand their nature in self let alone in others.
Energy is perhaps closest to the surface. Certainly, Energy is closely tied to Actions. When we see an energetic person it registers. Sometimes, high-energy Action impresses us immensely and moves us deeply. As examples, we are impressed by energetic athletic performances and moved deeply by energetic musical performances. Sometimes, the energy is much more subtle yet of equally powerful impact. For example, we can be moved deeply by poetry. Perhaps - or, should I say likely - our perceptions of another person's energy are more reliable than our perceptions of the 6 underlying facets. In most situations, when we see little evidence of energy in others we conclude they are resting, or they are lazy, or they are ill. In certain situations, we interpret other people's lack of energy as a signal they are thinking or meditating. But, often a lack of evidence of energy is interpreted to be a negative signal. Evidence of action, particularly energetic action, can be interpreted in many ways...ranging from very bad to very good...depending on our values and our other judgement factors and how the other person's actions align with our values and judgements.
Thoughts come in many forms. Desires are thoughts, as are goals and ambitions. Feelings are thoughts tied to Emotions and desires. When feelings last for extended periods, say a day or so, they become moods. When we lose the ability to control our feelings and other thoughts within 'reasonable/normal' boundaries moods transform into mental states such as clinical depression, mania, dementia, paranoia, etc. Some thoughts are good, some are bad. The easiest way to draw the line between good and bad is to ask the question, "Does this thought help me achieve my long-term goals?" If the answer is "Yes" then the thought is a good thought. If the answer is "Maybe" or "No" then the thought is a bad thought. Habits straddle Thoughts and Actions. Habits are Thoughts [including feelings] and Actions that are repeated. And good habits are repeated thoughts or actions that take us towards our long-term goals while bad habits do not. There is a strong link between the Thoughts and Actions that form a person's good habits. Good-habit Actions are the result of repeated cerebral cortex activity...repeated so frequently they become resistant to Emotions. Habits are closely tied to Self-Control.
Talents are innate. Some [if not most & perhaps even all] are genetic in origin, gifts from our parents and their ancestors. Talents respond well to strong, supportive early-childhood influences. For example, innate musical Talents can blossom into gifted Action at a very early age when supported by masterful coaching. Gretzky and Mozart come to mind. Yet Talents can also be suppressed and buried at an early age, never to be discovered. Processes exist to help us discover our Talents. Some are simple. For example, there is a close linkage between our feelings and our Talents. When we are feeling good and are enthusiastic while performing Actions, that's a signal that Talents could be at work. Conversely, when we have negative feelings while doing tasks and processes that could be a signal the Action is outside our Talent zone. Talents do not show up as Action unless they have the opportunity to do so. Talents do not show up as strengths [task and process mastery] unless they are combined with specialized knowledge and practised skills. The amount of practice is large. That requires commitment and persistence, so Self-Control is essential to strength - mastery of Action. When we observe other people illustrating mastery of Action, we can assume they have talent, knowledge, and skill in that area. We can assume the Action mastery required Thought and Self-Control.
Self-Control is a magnificent facet. It is reasonable to assume it has some genetic roots. However, clearly, it can be influenced by environmental factors. Social psychologists have proven situations and 'role models' play a huge role in human behaviour. Philosophers and psychologists have argued both for and against power of will. Psychologists have added texture to Self-Control, differentiating between short-term 'self-control' and long-term 'grit'. Regardless, for this introductory discussion, the ability to exercise will power is the same as the ability to exercise Self-Control and if these things cannot be exercised over the long term then their value is limited. Self-Control is the ingredient that allows the other 5 hidden facets and the resulting Actions to generate success. Self-Control consumes energy as bad habits are replaced with new things and good habits. Self-Control conserves energy when good habits are firmly in place. Self-Control enables Intelligence to gain ground, slowly over time and with repetition of focused Thought, over Emotions and unfocused Thought. Self-Control funnels energy to Talents so they have the opportunity to be exposed for long periods to the practice required to master the skills of Action.
Intelligence is the quality and amount of information we have stored in and can retrieve from our brains...as measured by others' perceptions of our Actions. Intelligence has both IQ and EQ components. When we have information in our minds and cannot retrieve it and convert it into Action that information is knowledge, not Intelligence. Human Intelligence only exists when it is perceived by other people. And, it can only be perceived when it manifests itself into physical form - and that means Action. Unfortunately, people's perceptions are influenced by a range of biases...literally, hundreds of biases. With that understood, there is little chance for one's Intelligence to be accurately understood or measured by other people. People observe our Actions. Their observations and perceptions of our Actions determine their opinion of our Intelligence. Yes - IQ tests are directionally correct within the limitations of a biased, narrow, and restrictive range. The same holds true for EQ tests. In the real world, people observe our Actions- they observe what we say and what we do - and they draw conclusions around our Intelligence [which they being biased, typically, underestimate].
Emotions are vestiges of pre-history. They are automatic chemical/electrical/physiological responses, largely outside of consciousness. They
occur quickly and are of short duration. In modern days of business, where fight or flight are generally not appropriate responses, they do us little good. Yet, Emotions live on and are deeply rooted in our subconscious minds. They are deep-rooted in the mind of the person doing the Action. And, they can influence Action. At the same time, Emotions are also deep-rooted in the mind of the person who observes the Action. So, they can also influence the perception of the observer. Emotions, somehow, support the formation and maintenance of bad habits...Emotions work against positive change. There is evidence confirming Intelligence and Self-Control can focus Energy and Thoughts to offset the awesome natural power of Emotions. This works best when Talents are in play.
When we observe other people's Actions we need to remember we are observing the tip of an iceberg. And, we need to remember our perceptions are skewed by numerous biases. We need to take time to make judgements of other people's motives and abilities. We need to communicate more clearly and work to understand other people. We need to ask good questions and listen well to the answers. We need to extend more trust. We need to invest in building stronger relationships.
First posted December 12, 2013