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Understanding Personal Style and Preferences – Part One

What are the advantages to having a better understanding of how we think and process issues especially at a subconscious level? How important is it that we have a good understanding of others? If people know each other better what are the implications to relationships and team working?

In this paper we will examine the benefits of greater self awareness, understanding of others and having increased personal flexibility in how we deal with people in respect of

  • Personal performance, choice, flexibility and influence.

  • Selecting people for positions where they will be more intrinsically motivated.

  • Improving team-working wherein people see each others differences as benefits for the team.

  • Improved talent management, succession planning, coaching and personal development planning

Have you ever wondered why the best candidate on paper does not always work out best in practice?

Why is it that some people with loads of ability seem to lack motivation in their jobs?

Ever notice how the best individuals do not always make the best team or how some people are better at team working?

How important is team working to effectively achieving goals and why is the impact that people have on each other so important to team working?

How useful would it be if knew how a person liked to structure their thinking and you were able to present things to them that were match for their thinking patterns?

What impact would this have on communications, influencing, selling, leadership etc.?

While contemplating the answers to these and many more such questions it is important to bear in mind that a critical element of future competitive advantage and success will depend on the organisations ability to maximise the contribution of their people. In addition, the engine that ultimately drives all of the critical factors that will determine success for all organisations is the effectiveness of the senior management team. The senior team acting as a team with team goals, with mutual respect for each other and recognition of competencies and natural styles of operating and able to communicate and allocate tasks more effectively depends on knowing yourself and others.

If you start with the wrong raw material i.e. individuals who do not naturally fit into the organisation, are not intrinsically motivated by their role, and have not got the natural mental processes that correlate with the requirements of the position, the organisations task of getting the best contribution from that role is much more difficult if not impossible.

In this paper we will explore how to more effectively define characteristics of the person we need, attract that type of person and rate them through the interview process.

“For there is nothing that is good or bad but thinking makes it so” Shakespeare

The focus here is on the fundamentals of how people think, emote, perceive, process information, respond, relate, behave and perform. It is about understanding the basic building blocks that make us operate the way we do, have preferences for different approaches, be motivated or demotivated by certain tasks and how we interact with others as we do.

Our thoughts are not real, they are only ideas within our heads that relate to how we experience and interpret external events. The external events may be real but our thoughts are only our thoughts, they are not real. These thoughts that we have sometimes end up as our personal beliefs, values and sense of identity. They are not real either no matter how strongly we believe in them. However, even though they are not real they do have a real impact on us. Our thinking does result in us emoting. All of the emotions we experience are a direct result of our thinking, we cannot have an emotion without first having a thought. Our emotions are real and they can have very significant impact on us, this impact is also very real.

Our thinking that leads to our emotions causes chemicals to be released within our bodies that are congruent with these feelings. When we feel excited or energised positive chemicals are released, when we feel down, helpless and hopeless then toxic chemicals are released. All of the chemicals that we release into our bloodstream are as a direct result of our thinking (which is not real) and this in turn is absorbed by every cell in our bodies. Our health, in a large part, is a result of our thinking. In turn this directly and in a real way impacts on our body language, our behaviour and our performance.

Greater self awareness and understanding enables us to identify and differentiate between thought and thinking that is empowering against those that are limiting or destructive. This in turn allows us to build and strengthen our resourceful and empowering thinking while at the same time reducing or eliminating limiting or destructive thinking.

We do not act on reality but on our interpretations of reality. Reality does not pre determine our thinking we do. This simple realisation can have profound effects on our thinking, think about it. This understanding can change us from thinking we are victims of external uncontrollable outside events to being in control. We can change our thinking and interpretations. Accepting of this principle has fundamentally changed our thinking already or will do soon.

The Difference that Makes the Difference

The structure of our thinking is nothing more than a habit we have created however because we have done it over and over again in the same way and because it is outside of conscious awareness we can believe it is solid and unchangeable. Every time we do something new it will feel uncomfortable and unnatural at first but if we practice ad do it often enough it will eventually feel natural and we will be able to do it without thinking (subconscious programme). This equally applies to the brain. We are creatures of habit but it is very important to remember that habits can be changed.

If we were to pay conscious attention to every single bit of information coming into our senses, we'd be so swamped with sensory data that we'd be unable to function. There's a very simple reason for this: our conscious minds can only cope with around seven plus or minus two chunks of information at any one time.

To keep incoming data to a manageable level we have all developed certain mental filters which limit our attention to those things we consider important to our interests. In effect, they tell us what we ought to think about and what we can disregard. We call these filters "metaprograms".


Metaprograms function like software programs within a computer and each has a specific purpose or activity associated with it. They tell us where to look for information, who we should listen to, how we differentiate between things, how we make generalisations, the goals we should pursue, and so on. Together, they make up the operating systems by which we structure our behaviour so we can pay attention to those things that seem to matter most to our comfort and survival.

Everyone has these metaprograms. And we're so used to applying them that they've become second-nature, long ago consigned to our collections of automated behavioural patterns - like walking, talking, and even tying shoelaces. And because they operate beyond our conscious awareness, they tend to be pretty consistent.

People are more complicated than any model that attempts to explain them. We do not think, emote and act the same in different contexts, with different people and when we are in different moods. When we practice something often enough it will eventually become natural and the same applies to how we think, emote and act. Therefore, we can change over time if we put the necessary effort into it.

Many personality profiling models make generalisations about individual permanent traits that exist inside us and explain what we do things the way we do. People are not absolute unchangeable traits that categorise them into boxes. People think and behave based on how they process things and learned behaviours. By changing the way we think and by learning new behaviours we change everything. The focus here is on how people actually function in a given context, with different people and depending on their mood at any point in time. It is now about what people “are” but more about how they work and function in any given situation.

People’s personalities do not exist, they are not real. You cannot put a personality in a wheelbarrow. We generalise particular types of thinking and behaviour and put a personality label on them. Furthermore, our thoughts are not real, they are only our thoughts and they only exist in our minds as ideas. Thinking and behaviours can change and as such the label of personality of any individual can also change. What we have is a set of mental habits that we perform anytime we do something without conscious thought.

The reason why personality feels real is is based on the habitual patterns operating at a higher level than our consciousness. This is further reinforced by our own language to describe these things. Very often we describe these habits as being part of our identity. “I am a loser”, “He is lazy”, “I am bad at concentrating”, all of these statements are made as though they were facts and because they relate to our sense of our identity we have in effect made them unchangeable.

The Meta Programme approach seeks to understand how people function or what mental habits or processes do they use in different contexts or with different people or dependent on their mood. In other words what is their default style in any given set of circumstances. Our given responses tend to operate at a unconscious level as a result of the environment. Given that it is all about habits, muscle memory, style etc as responses to environmental factors (outside us and context or person dependent) it means we are not fixed and with conscious attention or practice we can do things differently. To change a default process or style involves a degree of effort and repetition over a period of time. It is similar to learning any new skill whereby we must go through all the stages of learning before it becomes natural.

People do not respond to the environment as it actually is but to their past interpretation and perceptions of that environment. Because we are habitual we will only and do things differently when our thinking changes. We need to consciously do new things until they in turn become habits and natural. However, it should be remembered that with enough conscious effort we can do things that are not natural for us. Interestingly, this means that we can have one default pattern in one context and a different pattern or way of thinking and processing information in a different context. An example of this could be that in the context of work we have certain thinking habits whereas when we go shopping we could have a completely different set of thinking styles and processing habits. Therefore, habitual processes are context dependent and must be considered against the environmental factors that triggered them. An interesting question to ask someone is “when do you not think like that?” or “when does that not apply?” The answer should elicit the fact that there are some times when it does not happen that way and consequently it opens up possibilities.

Motivation and Processing

Intrinsic motivation comes from doing things that fit with our default and natural patterns and processes. The more conscious effort we have to engage in processing or doing things against our default patterns is hard work and can result in demotivation.

When we know our default style we can determine if that best suits a given set of circumstances and change (once we have awareness and understanding of what is involved).

It is always good to know that we are not fixed with pre-determined ways of operating. We can change. These so called traits that we have are learned and as such we can always learn new ones which in time will become natural.

How we process and do things now is nothing more than muscle memory of the brain or our default processes. They operate at a level above consciousness and as such we are not aware of the influence they are having on everything we do. Knowing our default processes give us insights into our biases. With more conscious awareness we have choice and can adapt our processes to more suit the situation. For example, there are times when it is more effective to focus on the big picture whereas at other times it might be much more effective to be detail focused or sometimes it is better to follow established procedures whereas at other times it is better to have flexibility and freedom of choice.

Putting labels on people associated with their identity can be very restricting as it suggests that they are not in control and it would be a waste of time trying to change. Examples of this could be - “I am not good at dealing with people”, “I am bad with figures”, “I am a poor presenter” etc. All of these statements have the effect of limiting us and even preventing us from trying to improve. “I cannot help the way I am, I cannot change”. When we put labels on other people it immediately impacts how our relationships with them. Is this an effective way of operating and what impact does it have on our ability and willingness to change the way it is at present?

Are such approaches and thinking limiting or empowering?

By focusing on how people process and function by definition we are recognising and accepting that people can change over time or adapt to suit particular situations. We all have our default muscle memory which we will apply without thinking. However we can think and do things differently but until it becomes natural doing things differently will require a lot of conscious thinking and effort on our part.

The more we understand about the structure of an individual’s thinking and processing the more we will be able to - effectively communicate with them, predict reactions, anticipate future behaviours and determine levels of intrinsic motivation in any given situation or context. We can more accurately match people’s default programming to specific roles or tasks or be more focused on areas and opportunities for personal development.

The more we understand and accept that we operate based on sub-conscious processes the more we can focus on how to more effectively deal with these types of processes rather than simply allowing that person to produce an emotional response from us.

We interact with the outside world and while many of us can have similar experiences with reality it can impact on us differently. This is because we do not act on reality but on our interpretation and thinking of that reality. The content of our thinking is based on our conclusions which is greatly influenced, at a higher level, by the structure of our thinking, how we think. Our approach here is to understand better the structure of our thinking. This operates at a higher level than our conscious thinking, influences that actual thinking, and is based on the muscle memory of our brains. That is why they are generally referred to as Meta-Programmes or programmes we run at a higher level.

Motivation is a commonly abused and misunderstood term. Everybody in the world is motivated to some degree. What differentiate different people are the circumstances by which they are motivated and the degree of drive they have to succeed. A natural fit is where there is a high level of correlation between an individuals motivation triggers and the role to be performed.

To fully understand our experiences we must understand how we created our personal experience of reality and the factors or bias that influenced this. To understand another experience of reality (theirs) we must understand how the formed this interpretation or experience and the factors that influenced them in doing so. We must not operate from the assumption that others use the same factors and think / feel as we do. To better understand ourselves and others we must appreciate the influence our beliefs and the structure of our thinking has on our experiences.

Understanding How We and Others Work

To understand how we and others work we need to pay attention to two things. Firstly, the structure of language will give insights to the structure of thinking and secondly observing body language will also give insight what is going on in their minds.

The mind is essentially composed, in the context of profiling, of three separate things. The content of our thinking which includes knowledge, experiences, beliefs and values. Secondly, the structure or processes that we use and through which all content passes. Finally, we run programmes that we have learned to apply automatically to certain stimuli or contexts. A strategy is a set of internal processes that takes place almost instantaneously at a subconscious level, we act before we even think, examples of this are phobias, strategies for spelling etc. All three of these combined produce bias which influences our subjective experiences. The more we know about all three the easier it is to predict future thinking, behaviour in different contexts.

The content of our thinking is the one we think we know best and can use this to explain and justify our thinking and actions. However, do we truly know “what content” is influencing our perceptions, interpretations and decisions in a given situation. In other words what interpretations of past experiences or learning, what specific beliefs and values are coming into play at a specific point in time. When we ask someone to justify a particular decision they made they will consciously think of the best explanation at the point in time when the are asked and taking into account the circumstances surrounding your question. This is unlikely to be the same as the unconscious factors that influenced them at the time they made the decision. Difficult since they were not even aware of them at the time. We can be aware of the outcome of our thinking but are seldom aware of all of the influences that contributed to it.

Brendan McCarthy | Senior Partner

Stratis Consulting

‘Strategic Employment Relations’

M: +353 (0) 87 254 8167 +353 (0) 1 2936748

Disclaimer: The information in this article is for general guidance only and does not constitute legal or specific case advice. The answers to specific situations will vary depending on the circumstances of each case. This is not a substitute for specific professional advice relevant to individual circumstances facing your business.


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