Saturday, July 30, 2016

How to Understand People- Lessons from a College Psych Class

I’m currently reading The Art of People, by Dave Kerpen and I highly recommend it! There’s a section in the book which talks about how to ‘get’ people. ‘I just don’t get him’ — how often have we heard that?
But it’s important to ‘get’ people. ‘The first step in influencing people is understanding them’…

When I was reading this, I began to reflect on this course I had taken last semester, on motivational psychology. It was a very interesting course, which focused on a theory of human motivation called the Self-Determination Theory. According to this theory, humans have three basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness. Autonomy refers to feeling a sense of control over your own life, and feeling that you have the power to make your own choices about your life. Competence refers to feeling that you are capable, or competent, to achieve the goals that you have- essentially feeling good about your abilities and skills. Relatedness is essentially feeling close and connected to other people.

According to the Self-Determination Theory, our happiness and well-being are essentially a function of these three needs. When these three needs are satisfied, we feel happy and intrinsically motivated. When they’re not, we experience negative emotions of some kind and are not able to live to our complete potential. For instance, if your friend who lost the basketball game is feeling low and bad about himself, it’s because his need for competence is deprived. A little encouragement from you could really make him/her feel better. Remind them of the times when they won, of the times when they scored more points than anyone else, and tell them that it’s just a bad day, and that they will be better next time because they are capable.

Okay, so everyone has needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness…does that mean everyone is the same?..
Nope, it doesn’t mean that everyone is the same. The extent to which people feel the needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness is different in every person. Some people have a greater need for autonomy than others- they have a greater desire to feel in control of their life and their time and their choices. Such people may be easily angered or frustrated when someone tries to meddle into their life too much. Some may have a greater need for relatedness and would always want to feel connected and loved. Others may have a greater need for competence and would always strive to excel and win, and may get disappointed or angered when they don’t or when someone questions their ability to succeed.

If you’re able to understand the differences in people based on their needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness, then you’ll be better able to form friendships and long lasting connections with them, and even influence them in positive ways. For example, if you identify that this person has a greater need for autonomy, try to give them their space and try not to be too pushy with them. Or, if you meet someone who seems to have a greater need for competence, try to make them feel good about themselves, especially when they’re in doubt about their own competence.

What I’ve written in this post is certainly not everything you need to know about understanding people- if I knew everything, I’d probably have been the author of The Art of People. I’m still learning myself. But there are two things that I’ve learnt and would like to imbibe in my life:
  1. If you can make an effort to see people’s behaviors and emotions as a result of their satisfaction or lack of satisfaction of any of the three psychological needs, then you’re in a position to better connect with them or help them if needed.
  2. If you can identify what kind of a person they are based on whether they seek autonomy, competence or relatedness the most, it can help you understand them better, and you can (and should) direct your behaviors towards them in a manner which doesn’t hurt or deprive them of their autonomy, competence or relatedness.
I hope you learnt something from this post: If you did, please like, comment and share!

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