So often the behaviors of others in our life seem rude, stupid, unfair, illogical or selfish and we assume these actions are intentional — so we react. We argue, accuse, cry or fume as we put the blame squarely on their guilty shoulders. Hold on! There is another way to view the behaviors of others that you might find helpful. Animals take this view and it is one of the big reasons they all get along!
I find the most helpful skill in keeping our own personal relationships healthy, be it at work or at home, is to understand that humans are animals, too!
Animals don’t try to make “sense’ of another’s behavior. They do not judge their actions against “the facts” or “what’s fair.” They understand that the actions of their peers are, for the most part, driven by instincts rather than intellect or logic. They don’t take things personally. They accept the behaviors for what they are and move forward to attain or reestablish harmony. They do not get emotionally stuck.
I find the most helpful skill in keeping our own personal relationships healthy, be it at work or at home, is to understand that humans are animals, too! The very same instincts that affect four-legged animals can influence us two-legged ones beneath the surface as well. Even though humans have much more advanced intellect and the capability to recognize right from wrong and control behavior accordingly, the unseen forces of instinct often result in actions that are more reactive and primal than thoughtful or logical. You know how you can meet someone and immediately like or dislike them? Why do we do that? It’s not logical or fair, but it’s one of those instinctive things. I’m reminded of a funny country song by artist, LeeAnn Womack, which illustrates this perfectly. It’s entitled, “I’ll Think of a Reason Later.” The lyrics go like this:
It sure ain’t Christian to judge a stranger
But I don’t like her
She may be an angel who spends all winter
Bringin’ the homeless blankets and dinner
A regular Nobel Peace Prize winner
But I really hate her
I’ll think of a reason later
We don’t’ know why we feel certain ways or do certain things, but instincts are often stronger than logic or intellect. So why are instincts so powerful? It’s because they are related to survival! They are existential and an integral part of life itself. You can’t get deeper than that.
Here are some common human instincts.
- Avoiding the Unpleasant or Difficult: Choosing pleasure over discomfort and safety over danger
- Grouping: We’re social beings and need to associate
- Flocking, Similarity, and Attraction: They look like me. We could be related and family is trusted
- Fear: The new or unfamiliar could be dangerous
- Classification: Profiling can quickly delineate friend from foe so we make snap judgments to survive
- Hierarchy: Orderly division of dutes and authority prevents chaos and anarchy
- Loss Aversion/Resource Acquisition/Guarding: Stay away from my stuff! I may need it to live.
- Rivalry: The strongest and smartest will survive.
- Jealously and Envy: Related to Rivalry, but more personal
- Curiosity and Secrecy: Knowledge is power so worth gaining and holding close
- Shyness and Sociability: Introverts and extroverts happen naturally because each have a role to play in the hierarchy
- Imitation: Nature’s classroom for learning valuable skills
- Constructiveness: Creating, building, and making things keeps a community strong
- Sex and Reproduction: The drive to survive through procreation
- Desire to be Great or Important: The need to “matter” runs deep
When we understand the instincts that subconsciously drive the Inner Animal in ourself and in others around us, we can not only understand the behaviors of others but navigate around them. We can communicate more effectively and ultimately get what we want from others instead of running into the hidden obstacles that instincts can create.
It’s amazing how this new perspective can diffuse anger and allow us to reduce the negative emotions in our relationships. More importantly, it can help us formulate a more effective plan going forward to improve any relationship.
Give it a try!