Monday, December 14, 2009

Whom Do You Attract?

I love the ideas that Iris put forth in her blog yesterday, Control or Be Controlled. After batting around ideas with Iris and then reading her blog, a lot of things fell into place for me conceptually.

Briefly, Iris put forth the premise that, contrary to the opinions you'll normally see voiced here on the blog, there are indeed people who can control other people's thoughts, feelings and actions. However, their capacity for control is qualified; it only works when they interact with people who are willing to be controlled. Still, from the standpoint of an outside observer, person a appears to control person b.

Building Evidence
But wait, there's a bit more here and this is where it gets really interesting. Over time, person a's need to be in control results in his surrounding himself exclusively with people who are willing to be controlled. Commensurately, over time, the evidence that person a can control others increases.

So, for example, if you're a super nano-management control freak, over time you'll end up exclusively with employees who are willing to be nano-managed. You'll either fire the others or they'll quit. You might have transient exceptions to this, but they'll be ephemeral at best.

In the end, without unnatural effort, you'll just have supplicants.
Note: One caveat here is other influencing factors. You might have people who normally wouldn't suffer nano-management, but you've provided them other motivators such as disproportionate compensation, promises of future reward, nepotism, etc.

What Did You Expect?
Now here's the really funny part. For years, I've encountered nano-managers who've complained that they just can't seem to find really good people any more. They always end up with weak minded, uncreative people who lack energy, resourcefulness and confidence.

Well duh!

Of course, this phenomenon isn't limited to control-freakin' nano-managers. For example, if you're someone who always resists and/or gets defensive around strongly-opinionated, powerful people who think clearly and present strong arguments for what they believe, would you be surprised that you eventually end up surrounded by people who are wimpy? If you're someone who flies off the handle or gets really dramatic over bad news, why be surprised when everyone around you is inauthentic.

Compatibility Modes
Then it occurred to me that any personal characteristic or trait or skill has a an associated mode of compatibility: reciprocal, parallel or incompatible. I'm making this up as I go along, so the words may change over time, but here's the idea.

Parallel Mode: Parallel mode simply means people with a certain characteristic, skill or trait attract others with the same characteristic, skill, or trait. For example, skilled musicians tend to spend a lot of time with other skilled musicians. Marathoners tend to train with other marathoners. Strong, confident people tend to be attracted to other strong and confident people. (This last one bears some explanation that I'll provide in a minute).

Reciprocal Mode: Reciprocal mode implies a complementary, yin/yang relationship between traits. For example, controlling people tend find people who want to be controlled. Needy people tend to find need-to-be-needed people. Great teachers end up with great students. Strong confident people also tend to attract weaker, less confident people. (So, some traits can operate in either reciprocal or parallel mode).

Some reciprocal traits are symbiotic in nature, they feed off each other in a needy way. Others are more synergistic in nature, the strength of the combination exceeds the sum of its parts.

Incompatibility Mode: Then there are some traits that don't abide other traits, or even the same trait in others. Controllers don't last long with other controllers or with others who won't be controlled. People who are cordial tend not to suffer people who are authentic. High energy people tend not to spend a great deal of time with lethargic people and so on.
Of course, each of us exhibits a combination of these modes. You can have highly skilled, controlling musicians who lack confidence and you can have poorly skilled, easy going musicians who exude confidence. Also, there are always mitigating factors such as where and to whom you were born, if you really need the money, higher purpose, etc.

Still, if you were to take the time to look at your most dominant traits and then map each of them to a mode of compatibility, I bet that you would find the people in your life are the ones who either reciprocate or have parallel traits.

Not All Is As It Appears
An important thing to note is that some traits are easily confused. For example, there is a difference between strong people and strong-willed people. Strong people are confident and easy in their strength, they don't need to control or be accepted or recognized. Strong-willed people tend to control, seek recognition and dismiss people who disagree with them; their bigness is fear based; they lack confidence.

Another example is easy-going and apathetic. There are people who, because they don't react strongly to situations, can appear apathetic, when in fact they're just not dramatic.

Applied Compatibility Mode
So often, Iris and I encounter people who say, "I wish I could get more people into my life who... are more interested in important issues... who are more authentic and willing to engage... who are passionate about what they do... who are positive and upbeat, not downers... who want to talk about more than the weather or their latest acquisition... who are interesting."

Perhaps you've said something like this from time to time. Well, if you buy into any of my compatibility mode theory, you may want to start with you.

Can't seem to attract strong, independently-minded people? Perhaps, you're someone who exhibits a lot of drama, or need to control, or lots of judgments?

Can't seem to attract interesting people who really want to talk? Perhaps you're someone who never asks others questions?

Wish that your life were full of passionate, energetic, creative types? To what degree do you exude passion, energy and creativity?

Chemistry at Work
None of us is static in our traits, either across time or in the moment. There are combinations of people who bring out other traits in each other, an interpersonal chemistry so to speak. A great skier with no interest in teaching can become an amazing teacher when suddenly surrounded by skilled skiers with a passion to learn. A quiet, withdrawn, introvert can become a non-stop talker when he encounters a non-judgmental listener who persists in asking questions.

So, who have you attracted into your life? Are they who you want in your life? How have you attracted them? Are there others whom you would like to attract? What would you change to attract them?

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