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  • Writer's pictureAJ Cheponis

Why Do We Behave As We Do?

Why do we behave as we do? That question has preoccupied philosophers, psychologists, and researchers for millennia. Left unanswered, this question relegates all types of human behavior to a mystery. Sadly, organizational performance reflects this all too often. It happens when many workers think and act only from their own perspective and without awareness and appreciation of individual differences among them. The inevitable result is a degraded performance, infighting, disengagement, and turnover.

Why do people behave a certain way?

Fortunately, the question itself can be answered. Human behavior is no mystery, not even in our corporations and organizations. We actually know a great deal about why people behave as they do, and we can benefit from well-researched psychological theories and modern assessment science. We can harness these to better understand and motivate employees, build stronger and more cohesive teams, and help others reach their full potential. As such, knowing the origin of personality and some specifics regarding key workplace-impacting drives can give us a sort of unfair competitive advantage.

Trait Theory

According to Trait Theory, a unique combination of genetic and environmental factors contribute to the development of our personalities. Traits are best-considered habits of behavior, thought patterns, and emotions. A trait produces a drive to behave in a certain way.

Another key characteristic of traits is that they are relatively stable over time. For example, if you’re a naturally extraverted person, you’ll likely be social in a variety of situations, and you probably have been for quite some time. Knowing that you are strongly extraverted doesn’t tell us how you will specifically behave in a given situation, but it does provide us with a predictable range of behaviors that we can expect you to exhibit.

How to understand people

The theory goes on to suggest that different configurations of these traits account for our unique personalities. Picture diverse personalities bumping into one another in a dynamic and complex work environment having millions of variables, and you’ll quickly understand the apparent mystery of human behavior. (Like a co-worker who washes out a cereal bowl in the kitchen sink but not the spoon. Hmmm.)

Understanding the inherent behaviors of a person trumps a resume, experience, a GPA, and even references. This is how we build great teams and find the perfect person for each position.

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