Modern Myths: Are They Really As They Seem?

Quote of the Week

“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.”
— Lou Holtz

Modern Myths: Are They Really As Them Seem?

by Kathy Frank

Traditionally, myths were tales of people defying the laws of nature or going beyond common experiences and often suffering the consequences. Or, they were tales used to explain naturally occurring phenomena. In many cases, myths were just attempts to explain and make sense of the world and try to make it more manageable.

With the rise of scientific rationalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it was believed myths were no longer needed because science could now provide all the answers and explanations necessary to understand our world. However, it is one thing to know facts and have scientific insights; it is quite another to understand how people actually perceive and integrate this knowledge.

Despite what we think of as our great scientific sophistication, we still understand very little about the motivations and actions of other people. Most of it, like the myths of old, is our subjective perception of the actions and motivations of others and our attempts to understand and explain them. We tend to misjudge people – create myths about them – that can impede productivity and progression in life and business. Maybe these personal myths we create are our attempts “to explain and make sense of the world, thereby making it manageable”. Some examples might be:

That person is. . .

  • a snob
  • full of herself
  • so detailed s/he can’t get out of her/his own way
    not strategic
  • lacking a sense of humor
  • too wordy
  • too quite.”

Human behavior has not changed since the time when myths were first created to explain and manage the world. Science and technology have changed and we have much more knowledge in many areas, but our understanding and management of human behavior is still primitive. How can we dispel a lot of these myths – our subjective false judgments – about people?

In the examples set forth above, perhaps:

    • A snob might just be someone who is shy and uncomfortable in social settings. Because of that, this “snob” may appear aloof or distant to those more extroverted than s/he.
    • People who appear to be “full of themselves” may, in fact, be people who love to verbalize their thinking and ideas, get excited about the world and are open in talking about their own accomplishments and achievements.
    • People who are so detailed they can’t get out of their own way may have a strong need to learn all that they can when moving into new areas/situations because they just don’t want to make a mistake.
    • When we say someone is not “strategic”, we may really mean s/he does not agree with what we think is important. This may be a flag for us that we need to communicate or sell our plan in a different way. Oftentimes we tend to discard the plan when, in fact, the plan could be right but our approach to selling it is wrong.
    • When we say someone lacks a “sense of humor”, we may mean they do not communicate in a way which makes us laugh or feel happy. However, we all have a sense of humor, although how it manifests itself depends on many variables, such as geography, education, culture, context, maturity and who we are behaviorally.
    • When we describe people as “too wordy”, we mean they are given to the use of many words. Could it mean that we are imposing our own style on those “words” perhaps because we are succinct and believe that is the right way to deliver a message?
    • Or, others may say that someone is “too quiet”. Some of us might just perceive that person as not active, sitting idly by or just day dreaming. However, “still waters tend to run deep” and they may, indeed, have much to contribute to those wise enough to plumb their depths.

We never want to reduce human nature to scientific formulas or mathematical equations. We do not want to eliminate excitement, spontaneity, creativity and fun from human existence. However, in the workplace or any organized activity (e.g., sports), where goals must be met and collaborations must be productive, is it possible to apply some behavioral science to reduce the myth creation – the subjective, fanciful worlds we create about each other which tend to impede communication and understanding?

If human behavior has not changed over the millennia, then at least the means of understanding it has. Those of you who use the Predictive Index (PI) know there is a way to gain objective insights into how to understand people and dispel some of those myths, a way to improve human communications, relationships, and, ultimately individual and organizational productivity.

Kathleen Frank is the President of Augur, Inc. http://www.augurinc.com.

Coaching Call to Action

This week consider where you are “myth making” about the people around you? How else might you interpret their behaviors?