[This post is part of a series on overcoming guilt and blame for good. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
Today, let’s look at people’s motivations from yet another perspective. I’ll introduce a mental model for people’s behavior. I’m not proposing the model is right or wrong. Models are always flawed — the question is how useful it is.
Try this model on for size:
Everyone does the best he or she can at the time, given his or her perspective of his or her environment and his or her capabilities.
This model suggests everyone is motivated by the same algorithm — to do your best. Yet it still says everyone will behave uniquely because of our unique perspectives and capabilities.
Most people I’ve talked to feel the model applies to themselves reasonably well. If someone accuses us of not doing our best, say, cutting corners on a project at work, we know we had to take into account something else in our environment — like another project they didn’t know about. If they did know, they’d realize we balanced everything optimally.
Strangely, many people believe the model doesn’t apply to others even if it applies to themselves. They believe they do their best, but others don’t. They don’t usually consider themselves special. They just observe their own intent but others’ behavior. Needless to say, your own intent is ideal. If your behavior doesn’t measure up, well, you meant to anyway. If the other’s behavior doesn’t measure up to their expectations, they may conclude the person aimed low in the first place. (This phenomenon is an instance of the worst problem in the world™.)
I’m not trying to convince anyone to adopt the model, but I find that making it my default improves my life. There are exceptions, of course.
If you feel the model reasonably applies to you, why not adopt that it applies to everyone? You can never directly experience others’ thoughts or feelings, so you always have to assume anyway. Absent contrary evidence, why not give them the credit you give yourself? Alternatively, of the billions of people alive, how unique do you think you are in doing what’s best?
This model implies that any time someone does something different than you would, since they are doing their best given their perspective and abilities, that means if you understood their perspective and abilities (and left aside your own), you would do what they did.
Let’s let that sink in — if everyone does what’s best at the time, no matter how inexplicable someone else’s behavior, if you had their perspective and abilities instead of your own, you would do the same thing.
We’ll tie yesterday’s and today’s posts tomorrow to address blame directly.
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On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees